Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Disruption at Budget Airlines Rattles European Air Travel: Flight cancellations at Ryanair, collapse of Monarch Airlines leave many passengers stranded

The Wall Street Journal
By Robert Wall
Oct. 11, 2017 5:30 a.m. ET

LONDON—European travelers haven’t had an easy ride of late. Blame the discount carriers.

U.K.-based budget airline Monarch Airlines went belly up last week, stranding 100,000 mostly British passengers across Europe and triggering what the country’s transport minister described as its biggest peacetime repatriation.

That came on top of an even bigger—if less dramatic—disruption. For weeks now, Ryanair Holdings PLC, the Irish discounter, has been canceling thousands of flights after it bungled vacation scheduling for its pilots.

It isn’t just budget travelers feeling the pain. Ryanair, after years of supercharged growth, is now Europe’s largest airline by passengers flown. It is used by tourists jetting off to the beach. Now, the airlines also carries an increasing number of business travelers across the continent.

Ryanair flew 120 million customers last financial year, up from 42.5 million a decade ago. The next biggest single carrier, Germany’s Deutsche Lufthansa AG, flew 62 million in its last full year. Ryanair has also come to dominate some national markets. Ryanair accounts for 28% of all European Union flights starting or ending in Italy, for example.

Budget carriers overall now make up about 38% of all airline tickets sold in Europe, up from 30% just 10 years ago, according to the International Air Transport Association. That translates into widespread pain when Ryanair or any of its smaller budget-carrier rivals hit operational headwinds.

Ryanair’s run of recent cancellations make up just 2.5% of its schedule through March. Still, that translates to about 20,000 flights that have disappeared across Europe. Since the flight cancellations were announced, Ryanair’s stock price has fallen 1.76%.

“For most people on a budget, looking to fly for business, you don’t have much choice,” said Karl Meyer, a marketing manager at GÉANT, an European network for research collaboration based in Cambridge, England, and Amsterdam. Mr. Meyer’s recent return flight from Budapest to London was scrapped earlier this month.

Elizabeth Leggat, a freelance theater director, was caught when Ryanair canceled her return flight from Krakow to London. Ryanair offered a return flight days later. Instead, she paid a last-minute fare, about seven times her original ticket price, on budget rival EasyJet PLC, to keep from missing work.

“We were scrambling for a route home,” she said.

All told, cancellations at Ryanair and Monarch have left more than 1 million European passengers scrambling to rearrange travel.

The Ryanair cancellations, in particular, have incensed European governments.

Belgian Minister of Consumer Affairs Kris Peeters called them “outrageous.” He said he was pursuing legal steps that could fine the airline for its actions unless it improves how it deals with customers. Italy’s national aviation regulator is considering fining the airline for misleading customers. And Andrew Haines, the head of Britain’s aviation regulator, said in a radio interview that he was “furious” about how the airline had handled the situation.

It has been an unusually tough year, anyway, for European commercial aviation. Italy’s once-proud flagship carrier, Alitalia, went bust over the summer, partly under pressure from budget carriers, like Ryanair, which have swooped into Italy’s domestic market. Alitalia is still flying while the government tries to sell it off.

Original article can be found here ➤

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