Figures recently released here in the UK show that air travel is declining for the first time in twenty years.
The number of passengers at eighteen leading British airports dropped by more than four per cent in September from 20.8 million to 19.9 million.
Large airports fared worst, with Heathrow down 3.6 per cent, Gatwick 6.8 and Manchester 6.7.
The figures suggest that the continuous growth in air travel since 1991 – encouraged by the popularity of low cost carriers – is coming to an end, along with cheap flights.
Any number of factors are driving leisure airline traffic down, not least the economic situation that’s beginning to affect family budgets. There are also environmental concerns and the well-publicised and off-putting problems with baggage handling and queues caused by extra security measures.
Companies are also re-evaluating business travel in light of the global downturn. According to Rebecca Ruiz of Forbes.com in New York, travel managers are considering everything from curtailing trips that aren’t revenue-generating to renegotiating contracts with hotels to include free Internet or gym access to asking employees of the same sex to share hotel rooms.
Environmental campaigners here in the UK say it all adds up to the government needing to look again at airport expansion, particularly a proposed new runway at Heathrow.
But the British Airports Authority says the outlook for aviation remains strong. “Historically, air traffic growth recovers from short-term shocks such as those currently being played out in the financial markets,” a spokesman said.
by Andy Moreton
The airline industry met recently in Istanbul, Turkey, and what emerged was gloomy for carriers and passengers alike.
Senior figures warned that with airlines struggling to cope with the soaring cost of oil, ticket prices were likely to rise significantly and a range of additional charges could be introduced. The Director General of the International Air Transport Association, Giovanni Bisignani, summed it up: “When you add $50billion to the bill, somebody has to pay.”
It was predicted that major European carriers could follow the example of their United States counterparts, which charge for food and, in the case of American Airlines, luggage on domestic flights.
The options for additional charging are considerable as I’ve just discovered to my cost while booking a flight to Italy in August. The no-frills airline, Ryanair, charges for each bag checked in, for boarding the plane first and for checking in at the airport rather than online. On board, all food and drink must be paid for, including bottled water.
British Airways says it has no plans to start charging for food, although it recently announced its biggest rise in fuel surcharges, adding £60 ($115) to the cost of its long-distance return flights.
Mr Bisignani said the industry was struggling for survival, with 24 airlines folding since January. One of the latest casualties was the British company, Silverjet, which offered a business-class only service from the UK’s Luton Airport to Newark and Dubai. (It has been reported that a Swiss investment firm has made an offer for Silverjet and plans to relaunch the business).
by Andy Moreton
I’ve been to London’s Heathrow twice today (wife to Milan, son from Los Angeles) and I reckon that any time spent at an airport is too long.
But it seems there are plenty of people who are following in the footsteps of the man in the Tom Hanks film The Terminal and actually making airports their home.
The latest here in England was a chef, Anthony Delaney, who’d been living at London’s second airport, Gatwick, for more than three years. In court, it was established that Delaney did not have a mental health problem, nor was he a drug addict or an alcoholic. He’d simply found somewhere ‘clean, dry and warm.’ He escaped prison – sentence was deferred until later in the year.
Charities say about 30 people set up makeshift beds in the Gatwick terminal every night, although the British Airports Authority disputes this number, insisting that rough sleepers are moved on.
Peter Mansfield-Clark, director of the nearby Crawley Open House, which works with the homeless, says the life of an airport rough sleeper is a complex one. “Once people are used to it they take a rucksack with them with a change of clothes. They go into one of the toilet areas and have a wash, a shave if need be, make themselves look tidy and put the clothes on. They will quite often be travel-type clothes, as if they’re just waiting to go off somewhere or they’ve just come back. If you look the part, you’ve a chance of being able to sleep without anyone disturbing you.”
Jason, one rough sleeper who shuttled between Heathrow and Gatwick for four years, saw The Terminal and reckons the Hanks character had a cushy deal. “It’s nothing like that – you’re constantly watching your back, trying not to step on anybody’s toes and at the same time making sure you’ve got everything you need to get by. “
by Andy Moreton