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A summer of flight cancellations

Monday, August 17, 2020

Travel restrictions or the economic interest of airlines?

Last-minute cancellations are often a problem for travellers. Until when can airlines still state the coronavirus as the reason for cancellations?

London, 17 August 2020 - Summer is here and, in many places, despite the current corona crisis, travellers are making their way to their holiday destinations. Since July, travel within the Schengen area is possible again and despite minor restrictions in places that report increased numbers of infections, many tourists gladly take up this offer. Yet, booking numbers stay far below what was originally expected of the year. While last year at this time an average of 8.5 out of 10 seats was filled on a plane, the average this year lies below that with only 6 out of 10 seats filled. And oftentimes even the people that actually travel are faced with flight cancellations on short notice. “About 56% of all flights in Europe are still cancelled compared to the same period last year. What is amazing though is that COVID-19 is not the only reason for those cancellations anymore. Due to the lack of interest in travelling, many airlines decide to cancel flights last minute if they believe their flight would not be profitable. Passengers are often not aware of this phenomenon and don’t even know what their rights in this situation are", says Tom van Bokhoven, founder of the air passenger rights specialist

A summer of flight cancellations

Why do flights get cancelled at such short notice?.

There is no doubt that the aviation industry has suffered greatly from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. The price war announced by Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary in spring has arrived and airlines are competing for passengers with cheap tickets and the announcement of various safety measures. Nevertheless, the current passenger numbers remain far below expectations. About 56% of all flights in Europe are still cancelled. And even flights that are operated deal with a reduced amount of passengers. Only 55% of all seats on board are filled at the moment.

But what happens, if those 55% of people who want to travel are already at the airport when their flight gets cancelled, but other flights to the same destination are still operated? "In such cases, the cause of cancellation may be quite trivial. A technical defect in the aircraft, for example, can be the cause of a short-term flight cancellation," explains Tom van Bokhoven of Passengers should be particularly careful in this regard. It is quite possible that the affected airline will try to blame the cancellation on the effects of COVID-19. In this case they would be solely obliged to pay a refund. And even in such cases, airlines will then try to avoid paying out the refund and offer their customers vouchers instead.

Although most airlines have adjusted their flight schedules to the current situation, cancellations can still occur at short notice. The main excuse for these adjustments is the travel restrictions which are imposed in response to increased infection rates in various countries. If there is a sharp increase in new infections, the governments of the affected countries often react by tightening these guidelines. Tourists then are usually advised not to travel to these areas anymore which leads to more flight cancellations. The reason then is not even the coronavirus anymore, but instead an economical one. Due to empty seats it is simply cheaper for airlines not to offer these flights anymore.  This however, is a practice that only benefits airlines and ignores passengers completely. Shouldn’t it be the case that airlines should commit to the flights they sell tickets for instead of just testing new markets at the expense of passengers that intended to spend their summer holiday in those countries?

What are the risks of flight cancellations in these times?

It is usually recommended that short-haul flights, i.e. most flights in Europe, should be booked about two months before departure, as this is when tickets are cheapest. This year, however, it is almost impossible for passengers to do so. Last minute tickets are often many times more expensive than previously advertised by the airlines. Passengers therefore have only one choice: booking a flight to their holiday destination with one or more stopovers. Direct flights booked at short notice are traditionally more expensive than indirect trips, which often include several stopovers. What passengers are not aware of is that the more flights a journey takes, the higher are the chances of being affected by a flight cancellation. Not all these cancellations can be attributed to the coronavirus. Although airlines often try to blame the virus on the cancellation, the real reasons often lie elsewhere.

In the last few weeks, it has become apparent that all major airlines in Europe such as British Airways are operating flights on plenty of routes in Europe again. Nevertheless, flights are still being cancelled on all routes. It can be assumed that the drop in bookings this year is the main reason for the cancellations. Due to the reduced interest in travel, it is no longer possible to achieve an optimal load factor of the airplanes in use. This does not matter as much for legacy airlines such as British Airways, as those airlines will still earn money with cargo flights or even filling passenger planes with cargo. Additionally, major airlines often earn more money with add-ons such as higher booking classes or additional luggage. A reduced load factor can therefore be compensated easier. Low-cost airlines like Ryanair however are at risk. A high load factor is crucial for these airlines to be profitable or even cost neutral. For these airlines it is then cheaper to cancel flights and either rebook affected passengers to other flights or to indicate that the cancellation was due to the coronavirus. This claim is usually made by airlines in order to save even more money. If airlines communicated the real reason for the flight cancellations, passengers of those flights would be entitled to a compensation. Short-haul flights in particular, where low-cost carriers are often the preferred choice of airline by passengers, are often affected by this phenomenon as ticket costs are usually lower than the cost of paying out any compensation, which is between GBP225 and GBP540 per person, depending on the flight distance. “As a matter of principle, passengers should always ask for the exact reason of the cancellation and should, if needed with the help of a Passenger Rights Specialist, look into the exact circumstances to ensure that in the end they receive the compensation they are entitled to for their inconvenience”, says van Bokhoven.

According to data from IATA it could take up to 2024 for aviation to reach the same level it had in 2019 before the crisis had started. It seems unfair to travellers to be expected to deal with a significant reduction in passenger rights, if airlines can avoid paying compensation by claiming that COVID-19 is the reason for a flight cancellation until the year 2024.

Reasons for flight cancellations are already many and varied. And while on certain routes, the coronavirus may still be the reason for the cancellation and passengers are entitled to a refund and, in case of a flight cancellation of a connecting flight, a return transport to their original airport, flights on other routes could be operated as usual. In most of these cases, this means that passengers are entitled to financial compensation. Often it is also possible in such situations for passengers to reach their destination on an alternative flight. So, the good news is that passengers can still reach their holiday destination and enjoy their holiday there despite the initial problems. will be happy to help you claim a refund for your cancelled flight

Unfortunately, we see too often that airlines still fail to comply with the legal obligations. Passengers are forced to accept vouchers when they are actually entitled to a refund of their fare. will be happy to help you claim the full refund. From submitting the claim to taking the airline to the courts in the event of non-payment. Since 2010, we have been committed to upholding the rights of affected air passengers throughout Europe.

Fill in your flight details and find out immediately whether you are entitled to the refund of your ticket. In just 3 minutes you can submit your claim on a 'no win, no fee' basis. Should the airline obstruct the process, we will take them to court if necessary. All legal costs are covered by our 25% fee.

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