Should airlines promote £5.99 flights during the Covid crisis? | Consumer Affairs

TMarketing emails from airlines are becoming more frequent and looking more desperate, even as the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic worsens. Over the past two weeks Ryanair has teased me with ‘fantastic fall holiday discounts’ and then ‘latest huge sales event’, followed up 48 hours later with ‘last minute price drops on weekend’ and then I saw how I didn’t book, another tease with words “You know the drill, our last sale should end at midnight.”

What a contradiction to the official Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice which, lest we forget, “advises British nationals against only essential international travel”, with a few exceptions.

There was a time when the British Foreign Office’s advice against travel “except for essential travel” was taking a country off the map for tourist trips. not longer.

Instead, Ryanair is promoting a bunch of cheap, mouth-watering deals to places the government tells us we’re often not supposed to go. I could pick an October trip from London to heaps of destinations across Europe for less than £10. Madrid for only £5.99. Barcelona, ​​Bratislava, Faro, Pisa, the same. Prague, Milan and Budapest for £7.99. Hell, I can even fly 2,300km to another continent, Africa, for just £5.99 if Marrakesh is where I want to take a sunny break.

Amid emails from Ryanair pleading for me to take a vacation in Madrid and other European cities with the phrase “there is still time for autumn break”, the Spanish government has declared a state of emergency to keep Madrid in partial lockdown. It banned all non-essential travel in and out of confined areas of the city and imposed restrictions on restaurants and bars.

Liverpool is already on “high alert”, with locals being officially told that they “should try to avoid traveling outside their local area”. Meanwhile, Ryanair has been selling its flights this week from Liverpool Airport to Prague, departing on Friday 16 October and returning the following Monday for £9.99 each way.

Prague itself is almost certain to be heading for a second lockdown after a massive spike in Covid-19 infections turned the Czech Republic into the fastest spreading virus in Europe. One wonders how locals feel about the budget airlines that are likely to add to their problems by pulling visitors out of pandemic hotspots.

The sun rises over the medieval Charles Bridge in Prague.
You can get a cheap flight to Prague. Photo: David Wern/Reuters

The airline’s behavior has alarmed some public health experts. Dr Gabriel Scully, head of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, wrote last week: “Perhaps the greatest barrier to effective public health measures is the power and influence of airlines and the international tourism industries.”

Of course, Ryanair isn’t the only one operating flights through the pandemic. Another airline sent me messages asking me to buy one of ‘thousands of seats starting at €13.99’, while easyJet was telling me in September: ‘Nothing beats exploring Europe’s cities, learning about world-famous attractions, sampling authentic local cuisine and experiencing colorful art and the culture.”

Perhaps nothing does – except when there is a pandemic sweeping the continent. When asked to justify its marketing of fall holidays across Europe, Ryanair said in a statement: “Ryanair continues to operate flights to ensure essential connectivity for business and/or family purposes. Millions of jobs depend on Europe’s aviation industry and we must protect these jobs as well with commitment with WHO and EASA/ECDC guidelines as well as government restrictions”.

The airline said this week it would cut its winter flights by a third but added that it still hoped to keep its planes 70% full.

EasyJet said it was only operating flights when it saw “sufficient demand”. “Due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic and related changing restrictions across Europe, we continue to monitor demand and adjust our flight schedule in line with it,” she said in a statement. “We only act when we see sufficient demand from traveling passengers, who decide if they are able and willing to comply with the advice and restrictions. applicable, such as being able to quarantine or take a test on arrival or upon return.

There are good reasons to operate flights for basic communication/work/family purposes. Moreover, vacationers are likely to be less vectors of disease transmission than spreaders such as meat processing plants, which are susceptible to infection across Europe. But should airlines frantically promote “last-minute” weekend getaways, accompanied by pictures of happy young couples enjoying their fall vacation?

Despite all of this, I and many other travelers will be sympathetic to Ryanair and other airlines as they struggle with this pandemic. Almost no other business sector has been hurt more than that. As non-stop airlines will tell you, onboard air filters significantly reduce the risk of virus transmission — although they can’t protect you much from a passenger next door sneezing, or closed airport terminals where you necessarily have to spend hours with thousands of other passengers. persons. other travelers.

The UK has already spent a small fortune to help support airlines. Ireland-based Ryanair is currently benefiting from £600m under the Bank of England’s Covid Corporate Finance Facility. EasyJet also withdrew 600 million pounds, while British Airways and Wizz were backed by 300 million pounds each.

Was it difficult to add a condition to these loan packages along the lines of “Hey guys, can you at least discourage people from traveling unnecessarily during the pandemic?”

When the nightmare is over (the virus, Trump, the Brexit negotiations…we may wait a while yet) and we can spread our wings again happily, one thing is for sure. The boom in air travel will be unparalleled – and the chances of a weekend trip to Prague, Barcelona or Madrid to get five are a distant memory that will never be repeated.