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TRAVEL NEWS

European airlines cutting fares to woo back passengers

With the coronavirus crisis putting a chill on travel, European airlines are reducing fares to attract passengers and fill the planes that are still flying.

European airlines cutting fares to woo back passengers
Photo: AFP

Travel restrictions adopted by many countries to stem the spread of the disease have clobbered airlines, bringing air traffic to a near halt in the spring. And while traffic picked up during the summer, it is now falling off again.

According to Eurocontrol, which coordinates air traffic in Europe, traffic has been slowing over the past couple of weeks, and is now 54 percent below its comparable level last year.

A European airline trade association has put August traffic even lower, at just 30 percent of 2019 levels.

Eurocontrol is now more pessimistic about a recovery for the sector.

In the spring it had expected traffic to be 30 percent below 2019 levels in October, but it now sees a 57-percent drop.

While the pandemic has left airlines starved for cash, they have begun to cut fare prices.

According to ForwardKeys, a company which analyses the tourism market, airlines trimmed fares from Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands to destinations in southern Europe by 15 percent in August compared with the same period last year.

In a study released Thursday it found that prices on some routes were down by more than one third.

'Entice travellers'

“You have to entice travellers to return to flying and price is a factor,” said Reginald Otten, deputy managing director for France at budget airline easyJet.

He said the airline had managed to reopen some routes during the summer and the planes it flew were nearly full.

“But we are nevertheless around 30 percent of capacity, which is a very, very low figure, and the summer is the most important, most popular (time) for people to travel,” he told AFP.

Lower prices also stimulate traffic, according to Eddie Wilson, head of Ryanair DAC, one of the two firms which operate flights under the Ryanair brand.

Ryanair, which has used a low-cost model to become one of Europe's biggest airlines, this week launched a brief buy-one-get-one-free promotion.

“At some stage you can't sit there and look out of the window and hope that things will be alright and wait for the politicians to do something,” he said.

Beyond cutting prices, airlines can and are focusing on their most profitable routes.

But the reimposition of travel restrictions and tighter quarantine and testing measures could quickly undo their planning and efforts.

European airlines earlier this month urged national capitals to coordinate measures to limit the spread of the virus, saying the current patchwork of restrictions is hobbling a return to regular travel around the EU.

Airlines are responding to the drop in demand for travel “with the tools they have in hand: reducing capacity and promotional offers, but they have no control over the evolution of the pandemic and policies on restricting travel,” said Oliver Ponti, vice president of ForwardKeys.

“The effect of low prices will thus be limited, especially as consumers remain worried about their plans being disrupted and rapid reimbursement of their tickets in case of cancellation,” he added.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Why cross-country flights are more popular than trains in Norway 

Figures have revealed that routes between Oslo and Bergen and the capital and Trondheim are among the most flown in Europe, with around 20 departures a day in each direction. So why are Norwegians opting for flights over the train? 

Why cross-country flights are more popular than trains in Norway 

Flights between Oslo and Bergen and Trondheim and Oslo were the fourth and fifth busiest air routes in Europe last year, according to European data agency Eurostat. 

Around 44 daily flights between Oslo and Trondheim and 38 between Bergen and the capital took off last year, contributing to some 222,622 domestic flights in total in 2022. 

Research from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) found that Norwegians’ flying habits contributed to twice as many C02 emissions as Swedish, German or French air passengers.

Flights between Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim account for around 20 percent of emissions caused by domestic flights within Norway, public broadcaster NRK reports.

So why are Norwegians choosing to fly between cities rather than taking the train or other means of transport? 

Climate researcher Helene Muri from NTNU said that several factors explain why domestic flights are far more popular than trains. 

First of all, she told NRK that the cost of taking a long-distance train between cities in Europe is cheaper and faster than it is in Norway. 

“The average Norwegian often has enough to travel with to be able to take a weekend trip and take these perhaps unnecessary flights. Trains in Norway are quite expensive, so when flying is cheaper and faster, you understand that people choose it,” she told NRK. 

For example, a flight between Oslo and Bergen can be completed in under an hour, while the train between Bergen and Oslo can take six to eight hours to complete. Trains to Trondheim from the capital take a similar time too. 

In some cases, such as when travelling to Tromsø from further south in Norway, a flight may be the most practical option due to Norway’s geography. 

“For example, Oslo-Tromsø is a stretch where it is not easy to find alternative means of transport,” Muri explained. 

Another reason why planes may be more attractive than trains is due to the sheer number of flights compared to trains. Recently the number of trains between Oslo and Bergen has been cut due to a lack of demand, with there typically being around four departures per day. 

In comparison, there are flight departures just over once an hour between the two biggest cities in Norway, meaning finding a flight to fit around one’s plans and itinerary is much easier. 

The popularity of flying between cities in Norway comes despite train travel contributing 12.2 grams of C02 per passenger per kilometre to the 236 grams of C02 emitted by planes per traveller and kilometre

Muri said that to entice more travellers onto trains, journey speeds and onboard amenities would need to be improved. 

“The time it takes to take a train between cities in Norway has actually increased. It takes longer now than it did before. It’s a bit remarkable and takes things in a bit of a wrong direction,” she said. 

“Increased capacity, increased speed and the availability of stable broadband in the trains are measures that can help shift traffic from the air onto the railway network,” she added. 

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