Please fasten your seatbelt!: An exploration of the ‘turbulent’ aviation industry

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It is no secret that the aviation industry in Europe and, consequently, worldwide has been experiencing some major issues. Thousands of flights have been delayed or cancelled, and passengers have been forced to resort to sleeping in connecting airports in order to reach their final destination.

But just how has this tumultuous period come about, and how are the holiday habits of the general public responding to the chaos? Read on to find out more…

A personal account

On July 2, this writer was supposed to fly to Bergen, Norway from Newcastle via Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. This was nothing out of the ordinary, as a connecting flight has been all but mandatory for this particular trip until recent months with the advent of a direct flight becoming available in May

That aside, the journey was intended to take around nine hours all told, with six of them to be spent in the connecting airport, preferably with a healthy dosage of coffee on standby. This did not happen.

What instead occurred was a series of delays and flights which were boarded, only for the passengers to be told to disembark again, resulting in me staying overnight in the airport, along with many other passengers, while the airline in question attempted to rectify the situation and send everyone on their merry way via alternative means.

This experience truly illustrated for me the impact of the recent disruption, with mothers tending to their young children while facing exhaustion, and older or less able-bodied passengers being ferried around with what little staff remained trying to find them a place to be comfortable.

However, said staff were wonderfully resilient and upbeat given the unfortunate circumstances, and I’d be a very ill-informed journalist indeed if I were to direct any negative sentiments towards those trying their best to alleviate the situation. So, the question remains: Why has this type of scenario been so common as of late?

Why is this happening?

Boiling the issue down to its fundamentals, what we have is an industry struggling to recruit and retain enough staff to function adequately after axing said staff during the crunch of the pandemic. This is made all the more significant as, according to market research conducted by IBIS World, the UK aviation industry is worth a staggering £7bn.

Airlines UK, the industry body, reported that aviation companies cut about 30,000 jobs since the pandemic began, having employed 74,000 people back in 2019.

Consequently, airports like Schiphol have been strained to breaking point with thousands of holidaymakers keen to get themselves away, after being stuck at home for two years, piling in without the necessary manpower to support the drastic influx.

Adding further jet fuel to the fire, security staff, baggage handlers and airline cabin crew are also taking industrial action in a number of European countries. For example, Ryanair staff in Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain have been striking over working conditions and pay.

EasyJet cabin crew in Spain working from Palma, Barcelona and Malaga planned to go on strike for nine days in July, over three separate 72-hour periods in July. The company said customers might experience some disruption, but that it planned to operate its full schedule, despite the lack of staff.

In June, 700 workers voted to strike, after British Airways failed to reverse a 10 per cent pay cut imposed during the peak of the pandemic. However, this was later gone back on after the airline offered “vastly improved” pay.

As a direct result, around 40,000 flights are said to have been cancelled by EasyJet and British Airways, with other airlines like KLM following suit.

In respect of UK airports, Southampton saw the highest cancellation rate, with 399 flights cancelled out of a total 6,852 between January and June (5.82 per cent). This was followed fairly closely by London City, Isle of Man and Aberdeen airports, all with cancellation rates over three per cent.

A spokesperson from HotelTechReport, who conducted the study in question, commented: “If your local airport finds itself near the top of this list, combined with all the continued cancellations this year, it might be a wise idea to travel a little bit further to catch your flight abroad or even make plans for your ideal staycation later this year or into 2023.

“Even looking at where you can expect delays is useful to help you prepare your itinerary with more factors in mind.”

The staycation situation…

This summer’s cancelled flights and airport chaos have caused a great deal of stress for many, but there have been some rather interesting consequences in respect of consumer habits.

For example, the aforementioned disruption was initially leading UK holidaymakers to give up on their holiday plans and “just go with the flow” of last-minute flights and other impromptu travel arrangements, according to recent data.

The volume of online searches for ‘last-minute flights’ soared by 437 per cent over June-July 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. Unsurprisingly, searches for ‘flight cancellation’ also jumped by 375 per cent.

The analysis was carried out by online search specialist MediaVision, using its proprietary Digital Demand Tracker tool that analyses UK search data from AdWords and Google Trends four times faster than any other platforms.

It also highlighted that domestic holidays or staycations were not necessarily taking up the slack as people clamoured for international travel post-pandemic, even with the UK’s recent hot weather.

For example, online search volumes for ‘Cornwall holidays’ have dropped by 42 per cent compared to 2021, with ‘Devon holidays’ (down 35 per cent), ‘Wales holidays’ (down 33 per cent) and ‘Norfolk holidays’ (down 30 per cent) also seeing a drop in interest. Search interest for ‘holiday cottages’ is also down by 27 per cent.

Louis Venter, CEO at MediaVision, commented: “The data shows that holidaymakers are champing at the bit to travel abroad post-Covid, but the current disruption at airports and ports is making them rethink their plans.

“A lot of the UK holiday industry probably hoped people would continue to vacation in the UK, but the fact that interest in staycations has slipped considerably with the end of travel restrictions just goes to show that despite the cost of living crisis, the lure of going overseas again is just too much.”

Thus, what we initially had was a lose-lose situation, as the aviation industry struggled to recover from spiralling into a logistical nightmare, while the UK’s domestic tourism market was seeing none of the lost revenue being put into it as an alternative.

However, there are examples which prove that, while interest may have slipped since the pandemic began to wind down, there is still investment being made in respect of staycation-centric businesses. For instance, J.R. Rix & Sons Ltd is a Hull based firm which relies heavily on its manufacturing of lodges and holiday homes, and it has seen a substantial increase in turnover recently.

Additionally, according to research published by GoDaddy, the aviation disruption has ultimately resulted in a £2bn “boom”. This has also been a knock-on effect of the cost of living crisis, as 62 per cent of Brits claimed that they were prioritising ‘staycations’ in order to save money.

Furthermore, more than a third of Brits (37 per cent) have already booked or been on a staycation since the start of summer. Among this group, three in five (59 per cent) people say they prefer to spend with locally-owned, independent businesses.

Coming in to land…

Ultimately, this summer has brought about an unprecedented period of trials and tribulations for the aviation industry, and it remains to be seen just how long it will take for international travel to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic.

And while it at first seemed that the British public were simply content with chasing the dream of an overseas getaway by jumping on last-minute bookings, current research suggests that the gap created has been handily filled by staycations, thus supporting the growth of a plethora of British SMEs.

Furthermore, we are already seeing increased investment in airports and airlines once more, with examples including the recent announcement of increased schedule of winter breaks for Newcastle International Airport, and more flights being announced to summer favourites like Turkey for 2023.

Much like turbulence itself, this tumultuous period has seen a great amount of instability and uncertainty, however it is also temporary if those in charge can step up and steer things in the right direction.

In the meantime, one can only hope that the “staycation boom” can maintain its current course and contribute to the British economy in a way that aviation simply cannot at present.

By Matthew Neville, Correspondent, Bdaily

Explore these topics:
#Tourism #Transport #International #Travel #National #Premium #Premium #Covid-19 Recovery

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