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Omicron has taken a toll on winter flights in Europe, but will the fallout be short-lived?
Lufthansa Group alone is dropping 33,000 flights from its January and February schedule.
Following a promising fall 2021 season of travel, European airlines are being forced to drastically reduce their upcoming winter flight schedules due to a decline in bookings.
Lufthansa Group confirmed that it will be canceling 33,000 winter flights—approximately 10 percent of its schedule—according to a statement made by Lufthansa Group chairman and CEO Carsten Spohr that was sent to AFAR.
“In the fall, we were still pleasantly surprised at how well our business had picked up. But from mid-January to February, we are actually seeing a sharp downturn in bookings,” Spohr stated.
Lufthansa Group is one of the largest airline companies in Europe and consists of the German flag carrier Lufthansa, as well as Swiss International Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, and Eurowings. The company did not specify which flights were being cut and whether they included transatlantic service.
Lufthansa isn’t the only European airline company making reductions. Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair is also cutting its January schedule by 33 percent due to a drop in bookings that the airline attributed to the Omicron variant and stricter travel restrictions across Europe.
Ryanair reduced its January capacity from approximately 10 million passengers to between 6 and 7 million passengers. The carrier said that it is in wait-and-see mode for February and March. “In light of the current uncertainty about the Omicron variant . . . no schedule cutbacks have yet been decided for February or March 2022. These schedules will be revisited in January as more scientific information becomes available on the Omicron variant,” Ryanair said in a release about the January reductions.
The drop in winter flights came just as some international carriers had begun ramping up their Europe flight offerings for 2022. On December 14, Lufthansa announced that it would be offering more flights to and from the United States in 2022 than ever before, including a new route from St. Louis, Missouri, to Frankfurt that kicks off in June 2022 and marks the first nonstop flight to Europe from St. Louis in 20 years.
Lufthansa plans to also introduce its first flights to Stavanger, Norway; Liverpool, United Kingdom; and Rennes, France this year.
In mid-December, even as it announced that it would be dropping service to some smaller U.S. hubs, Delta Air Lines revealed that it will be bringing back its flights from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Stockholm, Sweden, for 2022, a return that is five years in the making, according to the carrier.
The airline said it plans to operate up to 70 daily flights to and from 21 destinations in Europe from 10 U.S. airports this summer.
If the financial markets are any indication, the current winter slump in Europe travel could be short-lived. The Financial Times reported that airline stocks began rebounding on January 4, amid hopes that the threat posed by the Omicron variant is starting to fade.
“The global theme in markets is that we have reached peak COVID,” Roger Lee, head of U.K. equity strategy at Investec, told the Financial Times.
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