Dublin airport look to increase charges, summer woes with air traffic control strikes and a shortage of Irish hotel beds, but great start to the year for travel agents! Eoghan Corry talks travel this month.
In a normal year March would be the month for the big handover at Europe’s airports, from the winter schedule to the all-powerful summer schedule, the classic six months of plenty that follow six months of want with routine technicolour dreamcoat predictability. But this is NOT a normal year, this is 2023, thinned by pandemic as well as demand and we can only give an educated guess about what will happen next. Eoghan Corry outlines the talking points in travel this month.
Last minute decisions are confusing customers.
Airlines have long complained that their customers are not making up their minds until the last minute. Lead in times for flight bookings have been pared back by about a day every year for a decade. This year the airlines are leaving their own decisions to the last minute, which is revenge of a type.
Take Klagenfurt. No flights are available after March 25 and it is not scheduled to return on October 30. Asturias, Castellon (think: value alternative to Valencia) and Genoa are to stay for summer. Again, all were announced at short notice, two not announced at all, and all three finish for winter 2023-24.
Cork to Newcastle ends on March 24 and is gone gone, which is bad news for Cork airport and its bid to end a reputation for stop-start scheduling. There are also 40 pre-Christmas flights to Rovaniemi scheduled from Dublin which should liven up one of the most expensive markets out of Ireland.
Five star futures.
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If you want room service or even a bed in Ireland this summer, first count the stars on the hotel-board. The re-emergence of tourism legend Ray Byrne to open The Club at Goff’s, his new 50-bedroom equine themed hotel near junction 7 of the N7 in Co Kildare, indicates the optimism of five-star Ireland, while the two and three-star end of the accommodation spectrum groans under the strain of staff shortages and an uncommon number of rooms being taken up by government contracts.
Ray, who once said of his first location at Wineport on the Shannon that “if you meet a tourist in Athlone, he is lost”, describes the new hotel as four-star which is usually double-speak for “we are going to be five-star once we sort out the opening glitches.”
Up to 26% of our hotel rooms are off line for the summer, according to the Irish Hotels Federation who will gather for their annual talk-fest in Killarney this month. Government contracts have taken up four-star accommodation in the cities. Combine a boom in the five-star business and a scarcity of three-star accommodation and what happens? Expect the summer airwaves to be filled with stories of how expensive Ireland has become.
You wait three winters and two Airbusses come together.
Two elderly Aer Lingus Airbus 330s have been taken out of the freezer and are being dusted down and re-certified for a return to the skies. An A330 on the Dulles route perhaps? The added capacity we all expected on the San Francisco route? Miami to be extended through the summer? Perhaps all of these things, but in the post pandemic world, fat routes are few and familiar comes first, so far we have more A330 rotations to Malaga and Faro to look forward to.
Joy-rides of March.
The end of March usually offers some choice bargain basement fares, as summer routes are introduced six weeks before demand catches up with supply and the aircraft can expect to be filled. The tally of new routes on offer for 2023 in Dublin airport 15, Shannon, Belfast international and Belfast city five each, Cork two and Knock one.
Highlights from Dublin are Cleveland which begins May 19 (Aer Lingus) and Tel Aviv which begins March 16 (El Al). Sun specials include Antalya from Sun Express (commences May 28), Kos (Aer Lingus and Ryanair both launch the same day, May 2) and Brindisi (Ryanair begin May 2, Aer Lingus begin May 27).
Curiosity routes include Bergen (commences April 27 from Widerøe) and Iasi (begins March 26 from Ryanair). Belfast City’s plum new route from Lufthansa to Frankfurt commences April 23. Shannon’s are Naples and Porto (both March 26).
Agents report strong sales for the summer.
Since low cost airlines first started invading the charter routes dominated by the package holiday companies, the kiddy pool has proven a valuable place of refuge for tour operators and travel agents. Kids clubs are impossible to access for the do it yourself booker. Post pandemic, and with mainland Europe the first (only?) holiday sector to roar back into action, the kids’ clubs are more valuable than ever. Don’t delay booking the package holiday. That kiddy pool is filling up fast.
Canny Kenny changes sides.
Kenny Jacobs, from the rebel county, spent his years at Ryanair telling us that airport charges are too high. Since he joined Dublin Airport in mid January as CEO he is now complaining, (surprise, surprise), they are too low. The size of the gap is alarming.
Dublin airport wants to charge €13.04 per passenger, as opposed to the €8.52 per passenger they are allowed by the regulator. Something might have to give, and a pre-Christmas letter to the department from DAA chairman Basil Geoghegan suggests that it may be the level of service at Dublin airport.
Because security queues at the airport went out of control and passengers missed flights at the end of March and again at the end of May, the airport officials were dragged on front of the politicians of the Oireachtas Transport committee. Maybe the politicians need to take a closer look at their own performance. When last we checked the average waiting time at hospital A&E was eleven hours.
Unquiet gréves: French strikes ever more unpredictable.
French Air Traffic Control strikes have long been objects of émerveillerment. Different strikes erupting at different centres have long followed different agendas, not helped by the fact that three unions are competing for members and headlines in terms of militancy.
Marseilles used to strike the most. Recent weeks has seen a northward shift in the strike-rate, with Paris Orly now leading the charge, joined by Toulouse, Lyon, Montpellier and Nantes, at VERY short notice.
Charles de Gaulle has managed to navigate its way through the pension-age fray so far, but things can only get worse as the summer schedules arrive. Secondary picketing caused Ryanair to cancel 600 flights at short notice last September, Michael O’Leary claims that just NINE French air traffic controllers went on strike that day, not only went on strike but picketed two different air traffic control centres. It is going to be a grév-ious, hot summer.
Conor McCarthy’s new carrier, which celebrates its first birthday on February 26, was quick to step in to replace the routes out of Belfast City vacated by the defunct Flybe (the airline that failed twice, like a Frank Sinatra song). The latest to be announced are East Midlands – 2 daily flights from March 26, and Newcastle daily from April 28.
It is also considering a relaunch of Cork-Bristol flights following pressure locally. On the other side, a litany of Scottish cancellations from Dublin airport recently suggests Emerald’s rise to fill the Aer Lingus Regional contract has been a little more complicated than anyone expected.
The last of the lost bags?
If your bag is still missing since last summer, now is the time to give up and cash in your one thousand Special Drawing Rights, something which sounds like it was invented by Samuel Bankman-Fried, but is in fact the fictitious currency drawn up by the airheads who concocted the Montreal convention, long before any crypto-currency chancers went into action.
Aer Lingus dealt with 11,500 baggage related issues between June and September, of which about 9,000 did not make it to Dublin on the same flight as their owners and the majority were lost at Heathrow. Amsterdam was a distant second, Charles de Gaulle, JFK and Frankfurt had their problems too.
The response of the slanty shamrock was to staff up the customer help centre and make the process of reporting lost bags on their website a lot more customer friendly. Sky handling and Servisair dealt with a smaller total of incidents but a higher proportion, as might be expected from companies which act as handling agents for interlining airlines.
Prior to the chaos of last summer, luggage was considered officially lost after just 21 days and most bags were reunited with its owners within 48 hours. It is unlikely that we will return to that this summer.
Bags from last summer are still showing up. An Corraíoch mallaithe (yes that’s me) is proud to say he helped find some of the last of the lost bags in Hamburg, despite the fact that the passengers had never been through that airport and had transferred through Frankfurt. Sadly, the child’s buggy that was with them has gone into SDR Shangri-La.
Missed last month’s post?
Read: Eoghan Corry talks travel – January 2023