FRANKFURT, December 23 – German flag carrier Lufthansa to cut winter flight plan “around 10 percent” as spread of Omicron variant fuels travel uncertainty, Managing Director Carsten Spohr said today .
“From mid-January to February we see a sharp drop in bookings,” leading the airline to cancel “33,000 flights or around 10%” of its flights this winter, Spohr said in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung ( SAF).
“Above all, we are short of passengers in our home markets of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Belgium, as these countries have been hit hardest by the pandemic wave,” said Spohr.
Europe’s largest airline currently performed “around 60%” of flights compared to pre-pandemic 2019, carrying “around half” of the number of passengers, the CEO said.
The number of cancellations would have been higher if the company had not made 18,000 “extra and unnecessary flights just to secure our landing and take-off rights,” Spohr said.
The airline industry has been battered since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with countless flights stranded in 2020 as countries closed their borders.
European Airports Association ACI Europe estimated on Thursday that the number of passengers traveling through its members had fallen by 20% since November 24, when the Omicron variant was first reported to the World Health Organization.
Germany has imposed stricter limits on travelers from the UK and South Africa, among others, where the new variant has caused an increase in cases.
The sudden headwind for the industry has also prompted Irish low-cost airline Ryanair to cut its January schedule by 33% this week.
Today, a Lufthansa spokesperson told AFP the airline has already canceled several transatlantic flights around Christmas, after the number of sick pilots was above normal for that time of year. .
When asked if the absences were related to the Omicron variant, the spokesperson said he “could not speculate” because he had no information on the causes of the disease.
In total, the airline was forced to cut six flights between December 23 and 26, including services to Chicago, Boston and Washington.
The understaffing arose despite Lufthansa’s “large planned reserves” of crew, the spokesperson said.
Swedish national airline SAS also canceled nine flights on Wednesday due to the coronavirus, after cutting around 30 flights around the world the day before.
Lufthansa posted its first operating profit since the start of the pandemic in the third quarter of this year, after 18 difficult months.
The carrier recorded an underlying or operating loss of 5.5 billion euros ($ 6.2 billion) in 2020 and has turned to the state for support.
In November, Lufthansa announced that it had finished repaying the nine billion euro bailout it had received from the government earlier than expected. – AFP