Covid-19 scare: Virus empties out the skies

Covid-19 scare: Virus empties out the skies thumbnail
Mumbai: India’s airlines face widespread domestic ticket cancellations as more people call off leisure and business trips and stay indoors to protect themselves from the coronavirus pandemic. Carriers are also curtailing domestic flights and reviewing fleet expansion plans. This will be an additional loss of business for airlines that expected the recent mass cancellations of…

Mumbai: India’s airlines face widespread domestic ticket cancellations as more people call off leisure and business trips and stay indoors to protect themselves from the coronavirus pandemic. Carriers are also curtailing domestic flights and reviewing fleet expansion plans.
This will be an additional loss of business for airlines that expected the recent mass cancellations of foreign trips to be offset by a spurt in local travel. It isn’t clear whether the downturn will be reversed with the lowering of fuel prices, the biggest cost chunk for an airline.
Cancellations and rescheduling requests have increased over the past week, accelerating after the World Health Organisation declared the virus outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday. They are expected to shoot up further after India’s aviation regulator advised airlines on Thursday to waive cancellation and rescheduling fees.
ET spoke to executives at airlines and travel companies, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity.
Airlines have cancelled or clubbed close to 60 domestic flights to and from the busiest airports of New Delhi and Mumbai in the past week, said one person.
“Our cancellation rates have doubled to about 16%. There is a 20% slowdown in domestic travel,” said a top executive at one of India’s biggest online travel portals, which does close to 150,000 bookings every week. The executive said the situation was dynamic and could move either way.
An executive at a low-cost carrier said it faces up to 10% higher cancellation rates than usual during this week.
“Domestic demand has significantly softened in the last week, down by 30% on the previous week,” said Rakshit Desai, managing director at FCM Travel Solutions, a corporate travel company which sells 25,000 to 30,000 trips a week.
Investment information and credit rating agency ICRA said over domestic air traffic growth will be affected because of “averseness and precautionary deferment of non-essential travel by local passengers. Cancellation of major global/domestic events is also likely to have an adverse impact on overall passenger traffic,”
IndiGo, India’s biggest carrier, said yesterday it has seen a 20% decline in fresh bookings week-on-week. It sells more than 1.5 million tickets a week. An airline executive confirmed that cancellations have increased but didn’t elaborate because the situation is “too fluid.”
Aloke Bajpai, CEO of travel portal Ixigo, said daily requests to reschedule flights have risen twofold. He didn’t provide absolute numbers.
A SpiceJet executive said there were cancellations only on some routes, while a senior Air India executive said the cancellation rates weren’t alarming.
IndiGo and SpiceJet have been trying to garner traffic by offering flash sales of fares as low as Rs 987.
Until last week, as the virus spread across the world, Indian and foreign carriers had cancelled close to 600 flights to and from India. India’s health ministry has suspended most visas issued by the country till April 15, starting March 13. Indians returning from or via China, Italy, Iran, Korea, France, Spain and Germany after February 15 will be quarantined for a minimum of 14 days.
“It would be appropriate if airlines support their passengers in this tough time by waiving cancellation/reschedule charges or by providing any other incentive,” the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said in its advisory.
Vistara said in a statement on Friday it has waived cancellation charges for domestic tickets booked on or before March 1 and international tickets booked on or before March 12.
Airlines have curtailed or stalled their expansion plans. SpiceJet may not renew the short-term leases of some of 31 Boeing planes earlier flown by bankrupt Jet Airways when they expire in the next few months. It may review plans to wet lease-a form of transaction which also includes crew— more planes. The airline has diverted 4-5 planes used on international operations to domestic routes.
“We are running nine planes behind the delivery schedule for the Airbus A320Neo planes due to problems at the plane and engine maker. Now this has become a blessing in disguise for us,” said a senior executive at GoAir.
Commenting feature is disabled in your country/region.
Read More