EasyJet pulls flights; regionalized approach begins

More travel restrictions to important leisure destinations have forced easyJet to cut capacity again. However, the UK government has heeded calls to adopt a regionalized approach to quarantines.

LCC easyJet has become the latest airline to cut capacity amid the “constantly evolving government restrictions across Europe and quarantine measures in the UK.”

The UK-based airline said would reduce its schedule as customer confidence to make travel plans has been negatively affected by the ongoing changes to COVID-19 travel rules.

Capacity in the period from July to September will therefore be “slightly less” than expected. The LCC had been planning to fly at 40% of normal capacity during the quarter.

Following the imposition of additional quarantine restrictions to seven Greek Islands and the continued uncertainty this brings for customers, demand is now likely to be further impacted and therefore lower than previously anticipated,” CEO Johan Lundgren said.

We will continue to take a prudent and conservative approach to capacity, as we have done during this period.”

The UK’s transport secretary Grant Shapps on Monday announced that seven Greek islands—including Crete, Santorini and Zakynthos—were being removed from England’s travel corridor list at 4am on Sept. 9. That means that travelers arriving in England will need to self-isolate for 14 days.

The introduction of the restrictions to the Greek islands is part of a new regional approach to quarantine policy following pressure from UK airlines and airports. Should infection rates differ from their mainland countries, islands can be added to or removed from the quarantine-exemption list.

However, Lundgren expressed his frustration at the time taken to introduce the measures.

"We called on the government to opt for a targeted, regionalized and more predictable and structured system of quarantine many weeks ago so customers could make travel plans with confidence,” he said. “It is difficult to overstate the impact that the pandemic and associated government policies has had on the whole industry.”

According to data provided by OAG Schedules Analyser, easyJet is this week (w/c Sept. 7) operating 974,574 seats across 5,269 flights, down by 58% and 60% respectively on the same week a year ago. However, capacity is likely to be revised down following the new Greek islands quarantine policy.

TUI and Jet2.com have already canceled holidays to the Greek islands of Crete, Mykonos, Santorini and Zakynthos. A spokesperson for TUI welcomed the regional approach but criticized the “little notice” the government provided before removing the destinations from England’s travel corridor list.

“We now urgently need to hear more about how the government will implement a robust regime of airport testing to reduce down the need to quarantine for 14 days, as this remains a barrier for some to travel,” the TUI spokesperson said.

Lundgren also urged the UK government to provide “sector specific support for aviation” that includes the removal of air passenger duty (APD) for at least 12 months, the alleviation of air traffic control charges along with continuation of the slot rule waiver. “These steps will support the retention of skills in the sector—all of which would support jobs and promote connectivity,” he said.

A recent study carried out by York Aviation commissioned by Airlines UK found that APD suspension could save 45% of the air routes out of the UK that would otherwise be lost because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Without intervention, the report said UK airports would lose approximately 600 routes initially, with the situation improving as the market recovers to being about 130 routes down by July 2021.

OAG figures show that UK’s capacity recovery from the pandemic has been slower than some of its Western European neighbors. Overall capacity this week is 1.36 million departure seats—down by 65% on a year ago.

Photo credit: Nigel Howarth / Aviation Week

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