- The turbulence from last year’s summer travel upheaval is largely past, as per the Airports Council International (ACI), but high ticket prices persist.
- European airports have banded together this year to minimize travel disruptions, but the demand for air travel remains robust despite surging airfares.
- Analysts predict a long-term increase in airfare due to environmental and wage inflation factors, benefiting budget airlines as travelers seek cost-effective options.
Europe-bound voyagers this year should sidestep the tumultuous travel experiences encountered last summer. However, the aftermath of the disruption continues to persist, reflected in the heightened ticket prices.
In the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, the aviation sector faced a torrent of chaos as it scrambled to recalibrate operations following sudden lockdown-triggered closures. Last summer saw a significant number of European airlines restrict ticket sales, axe flights, and tweak schedules while airports set limits on passenger traffic.
Yet, the extreme conditions that birthed last year’s travel pandemonium are deemed "largely history", says the Airports Council International (ACI). Heathrow, Europe's most populous airport, is confident of capably serving peak summer demand this year. Meanwhile, Gatwick, the UK's runner-up in terms of passenger volume, has no expectations of experiencing last summer's snags.
In an unprecedented effort this year, airports have huddled to orchestrate and strategize their multifaceted operations. Their shared aim is to lessen passenger disruptions to the greatest extent possible, says the ACI. Current figures, however, reveal that European air passenger traffic is still trailing pre-pandemic levels by 7.6%. Nonetheless, five European markets — Turkey, Cyprus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, and Albania — have sprung back to their 2019 traffic records.
Air traffic control agency Eurocontrol is bracing for high summer traffic, as daily flights through European airspace have surged to their peak since the pandemic's onset. Yet, popular destinations could still be hit by unexpected disturbances such as weather shifts and industrial actions, affecting air traffic management.
Regardless of rising inflation, air travel demand remains resilient. The total number of passengers in May escalated by 16.2% year-on-year, says the ACI, despite the sharp hike in flight prices that dwarf Europe's inflation rate. According to ACI data, European airfares in May were up by a whopping 36% from the previous year, whereas Eurozone inflation was at 6.1% in the same period.
European transport analyst at AB Bernstein, Alexander Irving, argues that airfares should remain significantly higher than 2019 levels, citing reasons such as airlines bearing the cost of higher carbon emissions and wage inflation for aviation employees. This, he believes, will ultimately reflect in the fare. Irving also observes that low-cost airlines like Wizz Air and Ryanair could capitalize on the increased prices, as budget-conscious travelers may opt for cheaper options.
Last year, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary famously declared the demise of the 10 euro flight. He predicted that the average fare in the UK would gradually escalate from £35 to around £42 or £43 over the next five years.
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