Travel chaos hits demand for European flights

Demand for flying has fallen significantly among some of Europe’s largest airlines, as disruption in the aviation industry shows signs of hitting people’s appetite for travel.

Bookings made in the first week of July for flights within Europe in July and August were 44 per cent below 2019 levels, according to travel industry data company ForwardKeys.

The decline is a marked shift from the last week in May, when bookings for July and August were close to tracking 2019 levels as airlines faced a surge in demand after the removal of all travel restrictions in Europe.

The data is drawn from an industry-wide ticketing database and includes all major national carriers such as Lufthansa, British Airways and Air France. But it does not have sales from low-cost carriers such as Ryanair or easyJet, which have reported some of the strongest demand this summer.

The slowdown in sales has combined with tens of thousands of flight cancellations to muddy the outlook for the industry that is already buckling under a resurgence in passenger numbers.

“The increased level of disruption is substantially dampening demand, as we are seeing a dramatic slowdown in last-minute flight bookings, plus an increase in cancellations,” said Olivier Ponti, an executive at ForwardKeys.

As of May 30, total bookings for flights within Europe in July and August made at any point this year were 17 percent behind 2019 levels. But seven weeks later, that gap had widened another 5 percentage points to 22 per cent.

London and Amsterdam, two capitals where airports have seen particularly serious disruption, have been the worst hit with 11 and 13 percentage point slowdowns.

Airline bosses have previously said that consumer demand for flying has held up well despite weeks of negative headlines about travel this summer, including around 30,000 flight cancellations by British Airways alone.

EasyJet’s chief executive Johan Lundgren on Tuesday said his airline’s operations had recovered after a difficult start to the summer.

“The things that actually are within our control, [have] been stabilized,” he added.

But some problems were still hitting his airline, Lundgren said, including disruptions from air traffic control and delays from overstretched baggage handling companies.

On Monday, easyJet’s operations at Luton airport were interrupted after the airport was forced to close a runway that was damaged by the extreme heat.

“We can’t help it if runways are closed down because they’re melting,” Lundgren said.

On Monday the president of Emirates Sir Tim Clark said the industry would need to “tough it out” until next year as it rebuilt resources following the pandemic.

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