Wizz Air will cut flights from its schedule in the coming weeks, the latest airline to reduce its flying plans as disruption overwhelms parts of the European aviation industry.
The low-cost airline said it would cut back its flight plans for the peak summer period by 5 per cent and that the measures would “avoid cancellations and secure a more punctual operation”.
The fresh set of disruption came as London’s Heathrow airport, the UK’s busiest, warned it would tell airlines to cancel more flights operating from its airfield if needed, after admitting the service “has not been acceptable” at times this summer.
Passengers at Heathrow were also hit by last-minute disruption after the airport told airlines to cancel 61 out of the roughly 1,100 flights scheduled to operate on Monday. “We are expecting higher passenger numbers in terminals 3 and 5 today than the airport currently has capacity to serve,” the airport said.
Airlines across Europe have been forced to cut back their plans for the summer as staffing shortages across the industry have left them unable to operate their original schedules.
The schedule cuts at Wizz are smaller than those seen at many other airlines. EasyJet has cut back its plans for the current quarter by about 7 per cent, while British Airways has cancelled 13 per cent of its flights originally scheduled to fly between March and October.
“This . . . makes sense: Wizz is less exposed to the most congested airports where problems are greatest,” analysts at Bernstein said.
But Wizz’s main rival Ryanair, which kept its staff during the pandemic, has been barely hit by the disruption.
Travel disruption, the high price of fuel and the strong dollar combined to push Wizz into a loss at the start of the summer season, underlining the challenges facing many airlines even as demand for flying roars back.
The Hungary-based carrier reported an operating loss of €285mn in the three months to the end of June and became one of the first airlines in Europe to quantify the financial impact of the disruption, which it said had cost €50mn.
The airline said it expected stronger demand for air travel to push it into the black in the current quarter despite the high oil price, and that fewer scheduled flights across the industry would enable it to charge more for tickets and fly fuller aircraft.
Wizz Air shares fell 4 per cent on Monday, to take its losses for the year to more than 60 per cent.
Underlining the wave of demand the industry is dealing with, Heathrow recorded a sixfold year-on-year increase in passenger numbers in June, as travellers returned to the skies following two years of Covid-19 restrictions.
Heathrow on Monday said almost 6mn people travelled through the airport in June, up from 957,000 in the same month in 2021 when air passengers were subject to Covid-related restrictions, but still down from the 7.25mn recorded in June 2019 before the pandemic hit.
Overall, it recorded 26mn travellers in the first six months of the year — an almost sevenfold increase on the 3.8mn who used the airport in the same period in 2021.
Chief executive John Holland-Kaye said the airport hoped to minimise disruption. “We have already seen times recently when demand exceeds the capacity of the airport, airlines and ground handlers,” he said.
“We will review the schedule changes that airlines have submitted in response to the government’s requirement to minimise disruption for passengers this summer and will ask them to take further action if necessary,” he added.
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