Could the Lack of Passenger Traffic Change the Way We Spend Our Holidays?

At this time of year, people are looking forward to the summer and going on their pre-booked holidays abroad or within the UK. Maybe a city break for some culture, or relaxation on a sandy beach in hotter climates was planned and paid for. Or if not, was at least in the back of most people’s minds. However, 2020 has taken us in a different direction away from those annual plans a lot of us save and look forward to. With lockdown measures across the world and social distancing rules in place encouraging staying at home, theshape of the tourist industry has dramatically changed and as we head into the summer months, uncertainty remains as to what will happen.

Many flights are grounded, with a historic drop in air traffic recorded at 21.6% in March compared to the same time last year.Over 100 airlines either completely halted or running reduced services. In the final week of March, there were 55.7% fewer flights tracked than in 2019, according to information from FlightRadar24, leading to visual graphics that show an alarming downturn compared to previous years.In April, total flights were down 62% compared to 2019, with the busiest day being 28 April with 80,714 flights. Compare this to the 203,239 tracked flights from 17 April last year and you can see how things have changed.So what has been the larger impact of reduced passenger numbers and what will it mean for anyone booking holidays in the future?

The Strain on Airlines

On 5 May, Virgin Atlantic decided to end its operation at Gatwick, cutting more than 3,000 jobs in the process. That is approximately a third of its UK employees and will also see their aircraft fleet size reduced. Chief Executive Shai Weiss has said this is “in line with demand” due to the uncertainty of when flights will resume and the “unprecedented market conditions”. The airline will still be operating from Heathrow and Manchester airports, with the decision made to help “safeguard our future and emerge a sustainably profitable business.” Elsewhere, Qantas Airways confirmed on 11 May that it has deferred delivery of any new planes ordered from Boeing and Airbus due to a decrease in travel demand. Boeing themselves are also reducing their workforce by 10% and has seen jet orders cancelled over the last few weeks. Closer to home, British Airways reported at the end of April they would be making 12,000 employees redundant from its 42,000 work force. Company CEO Alex Cruz said, “the outlook for the aviation industry has worsened further and we must take action now.” He noted that “our very limited flying schedule means that revenues are not coming into our business.”

Since the announcement of the beginning of lockdown easing on 11 May by the UK Government, Ryanair has announced it plans to restore 40% of its flights from 1 July, subject to government restrictions on flights within the EU being lifted and public health measures addressed. This would mean 90% of its route network being restored and almost 1,000 flights per day. Ryanair Chief Executive Eddie Wilson said “It is important for our customers and our people that we return to some normal schedules from 1 July onwards. After 4 months, it is time to get Europe flying again so we can reunite friends and families, allow people to return to work and restart Europe’s tourism industry.”

Future Travel Plans

Concerns will be raised about how flights going forward can be made safe for passengers to ensure people feel comfortable about booking flights and holidays outside the UK again. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has even said on 12 May that many British people are unlikely to be able to take foreign holidays in the near term, saying “it’s unlikely that big, lavish international holidays are going to be possible for this summer.” Heathrow Airport has announced this month that it will begin temperature screening trials within the next few weeks to help reduce passenger risk whilst travelling, and there have been new plane design interiors appearing that give a glimpse of what people can expect if taking a flight in the future, including removing middle seats or having removable protective screens put in place that surround passengers, as well as the compulsory wearing of protective masks. However, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said removing the middle seat in aisles is not something they support. IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac has also said that “compared to 2019, airfares would need to go up dramatically, between 43% and 54% depending on the region, just to break even.”

So, if flight costs are expected to increase due to lower numbers of passengers allowed on planes per flight and a proposed 14-day quarantine for air passengers coming into the UK, what are the alternatives for UK travellers for holidays in the future? It all points towards UK breaks instead, however, many may decide to wait until 2021. UK holiday destinations such as Haven and Center Parcs are preparing to open at the end of May but research by VisitBritain shows that the majority of Britons who had planned a domestic holiday this year feel it is unlikely to go ahead. Areas like Cornwall and the Lake District have also raised concerns over people travelling in numbers there to beauty spots, with Cumbria Police urging people “not to rush to the Lake District” and Visit Cornwall Chief Executive Malcolm Bell reiterating people to “stay away”.

Less to Spend

Amidst the confusion and uncertainty over holidaying abroad and the UK, many will choose not to this summer. With UK unemployment predicted to double and the economy to shrink by 14% in the next year, many may not have the available funds to spend on holidays this year at least. Seven out of ten UK companies have furloughed staff as of the 22 April, with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme paying 80% of a worker’s salary.This scheme has been extended until October, with employers expected to also contribute to the cost of the scheme as of August, and has seen 7.5 million workers covered.

Personal finances will be at the forefront of many people’s minds before the possibility of holidays away. Those with short term loans, personal loans, credit cards and other forms of borrowing will be keen not to fall into further debt problems whilst experiencing lower income. If you have been affected by recent events, Citizens Advice and StepChange both offer impartial financial advice if you need it during this difficult time. Whilst summer 2020 may come too soon for holidaymakers and the tourist industry alike, attention is likely to turn to planning for next year when the situation will have hopefully improved.