Coronavirus: Airlines plead for UK government aid as travel bans extend cancellations

Move follows warning from easyJet of possible 'long-term travel freeze'

Simon Calder
Monday 16 March 2020 09:50 GMT
British Airways has warned of job losses due to the coronavirus outbreak
British Airways has warned of job losses due to the coronavirus outbreak (EPA)

British Airways’ parent company, IAG, says it will cut three-quarters of planned flights in April and May 2020.

Willie Walsh, IAG’s chief executive, said: “We have seen a substantial decline in bookings across our airlines and global network over the past few weeks and we expect demand to remain weak until well into the summer.

“We are therefore making significant reductions to our flying schedules.

“We will continue to monitor demand levels and we have the flexibility to make further cuts if necessary.

“We are also taking actions to reduce operating expenses and improve cash flow at each of our airlines.”

The announcement from IAG came after Britain's biggest budget airline, easyJet, warned: ”There is no guarantee that the European airlines will survive what could be a long-term travel freeze.”

The Luton-based carrier is the latest to ask for state aid to support carriers whose sales have effectively fallen to zero. It said it could ground “the majority” of its fleet due to the coronavirus crisis, though in the very short term easyJet will operate rescue flights to repatriate passengers stranded abroad.

EasyJet chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said: “European aviation faces a precarious future and it is clear that coordinated government backing will be required to ensure the industry survives and is able to continue to operate when the crisis is over.”

Europe’s biggest holiday company, Tui, has announced it will suspend the vast majority of all travel operations until further notice, including package travel, cruises and hotel operations.

“This temporary suspension is aimed at contributing to global governmental efforts to mitigate the effects of the spread of the Covid-19,” the firm told investors.

“We are taking substantial cost measures to mitigate the earnings effect. Moreover, we have decided to apply for state aid guarantees to support the business until normal operations are resumed.”

The Scandinavian carrier SAS has put most of its operations on hold “until necessary prerequisites for commercial air traffic returns” and laid off 9,000 staff.

“The waiting time at our call centres is extraordinary long,” the company said. “We kindly ask that you only call us if your flight departs within the next three days.

Air New Zealand’s final flight from London to Auckland is likely to take off on Friday 20 March.

The airline has announced an 85 per cent cut in its international network until the end of June. In theory the Heathrow-Los Angeles-Auckland link may re-start, but in practice it is likely to be grounded for good.

The carrier had already announced plans to end the service from October 2020, and has sold the landing and take-off slots at Heathrow.

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has signalled that the government may bail out the struggling aviation industry.

Speaking on Sky News, he said: “I'm meeting with the whole of the transport sector this week, but mainly to feed into an economic and business committee chaired by the chancellor in order that we can do what we've said all along.

”Which is, we understand this is a crisis like we haven't seen before where businesses which are otherwise sustainable, otherwise good businesses, of course should be able to survive through this situation.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in