Coronavirus impact

Airlines slash flights and call for government help

Lufthansa has parked 23 long-haul planes as demand tails off.
Lufthansa has parked 23 long-haul planes as demand tails off.

International airlines are cutting even more flights and appealing for aid as passenger bookings slump in response to the worldwide spread of the coronavirus.
Flight bookings in Germany dropped by a third in February, according to figures from travel agency services provider TATS.

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Major carriers have suspended most flights to China and several are starting to scale back services to South Korea and Italy. Among big players, British Airways has cancelled 200 flights in March, including to European destinations and some US flights as demand tumbles. It is now offering free re-bookings to alternative routes. Ryanair will cut capacity to and from Italy by 25% for the next three weeks and Easyjet is also reducing services to Italy. Lufthansa has cut various short-haul and medium-haul services as bookings slow down.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said the airline, which has grounded 23 long-haul planes, expected to reduce short-haul capacity by 25% in the next few weeks. “The outlook depends heavily on developments in Europe in the next few days,” he warned. Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary said he expected very weak demand “in the next two or three weeks” but a normalisation by the summer.

In response to this dramatic situation, IATA has called on authorities worldwide to suspend airport slot usage rules immediately and for the summer 2020 season to prevent airlines that have suspended flights from losing their traffic rights in the coming months.

The association said on Wednesday that worldwide passenger traffic growth slowed to 2.4% in January. “January was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the traffic impacts we are seeing owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, given that major travel restrictions in China did not begin until 23 January. Nevertheless, it was still enough to cause our slowest traffic growth in nearly a decade,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.