The struggling British airline Flybe collapsed Thursday amid drops in demand caused by the new coronavirus (officially known as COVID-19), leaving its passengers stranded.
Immediately following the news, Britain’s train operators agreed to provide free travel to Flybe staff and customers who are unable to travel over the next week. They just need to show proof of their employment or planned journey (such as employee ID, boarding pass, or flight confirmation) to ticketing staff at any railway station in the United Kingdom.
Flybe’s fall highlights the damage that the virus outbreak has had on the airline industry, which has cut back on flights around the world as people avoid flying out of precaution.
The British regional airline narrowly avoided bankruptcy in January but had continued to lose money. U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News that for “an already weak company,” the virus made survival impossible.
The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority urged customers to make their own alternative travel arrangements.
Airlines are struggling amid the coronavirus outbreak
Airlines have struggled after a spike in new coronavirus cases were reported in Italy, South Korea, and Iran, spooking vacationers and sparking the cancellation of business trips.
The International Air Transport Association said January saw the slowest monthly year-over-year growth since April 2010—and that was before the main impact of the virus outbreak. United Airlines said it will freeze hiring and ask employees to volunteer for unpaid leave as it struggles with weak demand. Finnair is enforcing temporary layoffs for some 6,000 staff.
The disruption is having the biggest effect on companies that were perceived as already weak financially. Norwegian Air Shuttle, which has struggled to maintain the costs of operating a low-budget business model on long-haul transatlantic flights, has seen its shares slide 55 percent since the start of the virus outbreak, including a 12 percent drop Thursday.
Flybe’s network included more than half of British domestic flights outside of London. Europe’s largest regional carrier, Flybe had a major presence at airports such as Aberdeen, Belfast City, Manchester, and Southampton, and flew some 9 million passengers a year.
Flybe has struggled with a series of issues, including the weakening of the pound in light of Britain’s pending departure from the European Union. The weaker pound hurts airlines like Flybe that have significant costs in dollars but take in revenue in pounds.
It is the second U.K.-based airline in six months to fail after Thomas Cook went bust in September.