Airlines forced to cancel flights as omicron hits demand and frontline crew

India’s largest carrier IndiGo will cut 20 per cent of its flights due to lower demand as a rapidly spreading coronavirus upends the recovery of air travel.

The airline was operating around 1,200 flights as on Saturday.

Other airlines are being forced to cancel flights as states tighten restrictions to combat the spread of the virus, and people are dropping last-minute travel plans.

Airlines carried 2,518 passengers on 260,251 flights on Saturday, compared to 2,794 passengers on 358,856 flights the day before.

According to travel industry sources, bookings in the 15-30 days period have seen a drop of around 40 per cent.

“Owing to the increasing number of Omicron infections, large numbers of IndiGo customers are changing their travel plans.

“In response to customer needs, IndiGo is waiving change fees and is offering free changes for all new and existing bookings made up to January 31, for flights up to March 31, 2022.

“We anticipate that around 20 per cent of our current scheduled operations will be withdrawn from service,” the airline said in a statement.

Sources, however, said the cancellations were also due to higher rates of illness among employees, primarily frontline workers such as pilots and cabin crew in the latest sign of how the fast-spreading Omicron variant is upending business even in industries with heavily vaccinated workforces.

Hit by cancellations and falling forward bookings, a few airlines have approached the ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) to cap the capacity the airlines can deploy.

Government officials said a call on this will be taken by January 13 when Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia meets airline bosses.

“No decision has been taken as of now. We are keeping a close watch,” they said.

The ministry had allowed domestic flights to fly with 100 per cent capacity since October 18, which coincides with the beginning of the peak season for the aviation business in the country.

This was for the first time since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic that the government allowed 100 per cent capacity utilisation.

Revenue management — the science of getting the best price for a ticket — is based on historical data.

With the help of big-data computing, airlines know with precision the demand for a 2 pm flight to Mumbai on the third Thursday of April.

However, the changing pattern of the virus has thrown that out of the window.

With no historical data for the past one and a half year, airlines are being forced to plan for a short window.

However, airline executives are taking hope from the trend and new research, which suggests that while the Omicron variant is more contagious it could be shorter and recovery could also be faster in the summer.

“Besides urgent personal/business travel, the extended work from home seems to have created the demand for travel back home from metros to tier-2 cities.

“With special discounts and offers being announced, we hope to see an improved position with an uptick for the summer holiday season later this quarter,” said Indiver Rastogi, president & group head (global business travel), at Thomas Cook India & SOTC.

Photograph: ANI Photo

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