Travelers have been left disappointed by the news that British Airways (BA) will be axing flights to a number of long-haul destinations in 2021 as the airline deals with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision represents another sign that travelers will see less freedom of choice in flight options next year even as the pandemic eases and travel restrictions are lifted.
The move comes as the air industry struggles to deal with a huge drop in passenger numbers and revenues in 2020 as a result of global lockdowns and travel restrictions.
While airlines have been working hard to encourage people back to traveling, persistent safety concerns and government-mandated stay-at-home orders are preventing people from returning to flying while the pandemic continues and forcing airlines to make tough decisions on their flight operations.
Travelers Facing Fewer Flight Options To Popular Destinations
British Airways will stop flying to a range of popular holiday locations around the world next year, with the company announcing that 13 long-haul flights would be permanently removed from its schedule, while a further 3 will be suspended for summer 2021.
The full list of flight destinations axed is as follows:
- Charleston, Pittsburgh (USA)
- Calgary (Canada)
- Seoul (South Korea)
- Durban (South Africa)
- Dammam, Jeddah (Saudi Arabia)
- Lima (Peru)
- Osaka (Japan)
- Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)
- Abu Dhabi (UAE)
- Muscat (Oman)
On top of this list, flights to Sydney (Australia), Bangkok (Thailand) and San Jose (Costa Rica) will all be suspended next summer and are expected to be restored in October 2021.
Announcing the changes to its flight schedule, a BA spokesperson said that “We are sorry that, like other airlines, due to the current coronavirus pandemic and global travel restrictions we are operating a reduced and dynamic schedule”. British Airways follows easyJet among the first major airlines to announce significant changes to their 2021 flight operations as a result of the pandemic.
BA’s announcement represents a blow to British travelers hoping for a return to international holidays in 2021 as the pandemic is brought under control.
Many of the cancelled flight routes are to popular holiday destinations as well as locations that may be hard to reach, with limited flights available from other airlines. Passengers hoping to fly from the UK to Peru, Costa Rica or South Korea, for example, will find that they have more limited options and may have to take multiple flights in order to reach their final destination.
The cancellation of these flight routes will also make it more difficult for British travelers to reach more remote destinations – as airports such as Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur act as regional hubs offering connections to locations that do not have direct flights to the UK, for example Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia. The axing of direct flights to hub airports will consequently add to the cost and number of flights required to reach some of these destinations.
The removal of popular flight routes from BA’s schedule could also have the effect of reducing competition, resulting in higher prices for tickets charged by airlines which still fly to these locations. Whichever way you look at it, BA’s announcement is not good news for British travelers, and is likely to lead to higher costs for some international trips, at least over the coming year.
Pandemic Having Long-Term Impact On Travel
The changes to BA’s flight schedule indicate the long-term impact that the pandemic is having on the travel industry, highlighting that travelers will have to contend with a new normal for international vacations for the next year at least. Other airlines are likely to follow BA in announcing changes to their flight schedules in 2021 as the impact of the pandemic continues to bite, resulting in reduced freedom of choice in flight options for travelers around the world.
In particular, the loss of revenue caused by a collapse in passenger numbers is forcing airlines to make difficult decisions to rationalise operations in order to stay afloat. BA for example suffered a GBP£4bn loss in the first half of 2020, making 10,000 of its staff redundant in order to cut costs. While this has allowed the airline to continue operating, it has not prevented the cancellation of flight routes next year. EasyJet has taken similar measures following historic financial losses, leading it to reduce its flight schedule to 20% of capacity for Q1 2021, and further changes could be made in the coming months.
Airlines are making strong efforts to encourage passengers back to flying, including pre-flight COVID testing, enhanced cleaning and other safety measures, all of which are likely to continue over the coming year as the pandemic slowly gets under control. However, even with vaccines being rolled out and an end to the pandemic finally in sight, the impact of the virus on international travel will continue to be felt far into 2021 and possibly beyond.
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