Flight cancellations, lost luggage, lack of hotel beds and more – Eoghan Corry talks travel this month.
It has been a summer, says Eoghan Corry. Nobody was sure what shape the holiday season would take, but the travel industry, always full of surprises, threw in a few extra twists for us this year. So there is lots of things to ruminate about as we face into the last few weeks of the summer schedules. Rumination with a view, if you like.
1. Ryanair are roaring.
“Fortune favours the bold,” is a slogan that could have been thought up by Michael O’Leary. Not many, at least outside the control room in Swords anticipated the scale of Ryanair’s passenger growth in summer 2022.
The headline figures compared with 2019 show two things: Ryanair’s readiness to snap up the business of returnees to travel and the caution of the opposition. Ryanair’s policy of keeping its aircraft certified, its pilots licensed and its cabin crew employed through Covid meant that it did not hit the staffing crisis faced by almost everyone else on the departure board.
It meant that Ryanair, for a time during summer at least, were the second busiest airline in the world. And because it flies point to point and does not do transfers, it did not get caught up in the lottery of lost bags.
Ryanair monthly passenger rate increases got bigger as their rivals floundered in the heat of summer, 5.4% ahead of 2019 in April, 9.2% in May, then 12% 13.5% and 13.4% in June, July and August, at a time most airlines are expecting to report lower numbers than three summers ago.
What next? An ambitious schedule has already been published for 2023. Ryanair is anticipating two new aircraft a week between now and March, although Boeing seem to be able to deliver only half that number unless something improves in Seattle.
It is well positioned to face a further rise in fuel price this winter, and willingness to turn its back on Frankfurt Main and Zaventum shows it is still prepared to pull out of an airport deal if the terms are not right.
That means more of the same: cheap headline prices, but be prepared to be shaken down on ancillaries. Some of the fares on offer for summer 2023 are surprisingly high. And Christmas is off the scale.
2. Lingus are not laggards.
When BA, Lufthansa Air France and Easyjet assessed the rosters in May and made the call to cancel thousands of scheduled flights, Aer Lingus decided not to do so and flew straight into a series of well publicised sickness shortages.
The short term cancellations caused by staff absences, at their peak, caused disruption that was no greater than a moderate weather event. The problem was that 27% of their flight cancellations were at less than six hours’ notice, bad news for both airline and passengers.
Another difference was that Aer Lingus publicised their problems, while Air France, American, BA, Eurowings, United, SAS and Westjet quietly cancelled without drawing attention to themselves.
When they thought nothing else could go wrong, someone in England dug up the cable that links the booking reference to the cloud, 800 gigabytes of oppression. There is an ongoing problem for Aer Lingus, the interface between their once state of the art Astral system and the front end website and app.
For the future: expect earlier cancellations and (maybe) fewer press releases.
3. Cold cases.
The baggage mountain in Dublin airport became a social media meme of its own this summer. Musicians, golfers, brides and even a dead parent’s ashes were all sucked into it at some stage, like an otherworld villain from a 1950s B movie.
Many, though not all of the problems, were caused by bags that failed to make the transfer flight in Heathrow, Amsterdam and, especially Toronto, among other places.
Baggage handlers were slow to staff up and thwarted by red tape. The issue now is that the problem is likely to taper on, with Heathrow saying their woes will spill on until next summer.
Our tech-heavy baggage system was designed for efficient airline operations and enough beefy men to actually lift the bags. Neither situation prevails at the moment.
4. Hotels are overheated.
Forget the burgeoning energy bill. It is hot in the lobby. Dublin’s hotels went into the recover knowing they were about 3,500 rooms short of demand.
They also had up to 80% of their stock already taken with deferrals (about 25%), tour ops (35%) and government contracts (about 17%) while 2.4% of hotels chose not to reopen at all. That left 6% of rooms, one sixteenth of the total, for walk in business.
To ramp the temperature up further, it was a summer of 30 concerts, three times the number we danced at 2019, with the likes of the Eagles and Garth Brooks likely to draw the very cohort of customers hotels spend a lot of their marketing budgets trying to attract.
All this was not going to end well, and country hotels are blaming their cosmopolitan colleagues for the PR disaster that ensued. The hoteliers knew the figures before the first check in of summer. How did they allow it to go so wrong so quickly?
5. Cruising’s breakers yard blues.
We remember, if not always fondly, the iconic budget cruise ships of the past. Okay, some of these elderly maidens were short on space, long on years and in need of a makeover, but for many Irish people they provided their first cruise.
This summer they all paraded off to the breakers’ yard, the CMV Magellan and Marco Polo and Fred Olsen’s Boudicca, while Black Watch has become an accommodation ship.
Royal Caribbean’s original Monarch and Sovereign of the Seas, later sailing for Pullmantur, also tugged off to Davy Jones’ locker, or as Luke Kelly used to sing, Fiddler’s Green.
While there is plenty of excitement at sea this autumn, with 17 new ships including the marquee launches of RCCL’s Wonder of the Seas, Celebrity Beyond and Norwegian’s Prima, Princess announcing its new Sphere-class and MSC Seascape to follow in a few weeks, the crisis that hit cruising more than other aspects of travel has cleared the quays of the smaller older ships that used to offer low budget options.
Read: How to choose the right cruise for you
6. Covid hasn’t gone away (you know).
Few things cause as much dismay at a departure gate as the unexpected news that a flight still requires masks., A surprising number still do. Germany is the latest to drop masking requirements on flights, next Saturday. But remember Asia is still largely closed, Africa and South America still complicated, and local restrictions can still bite us in the earlobes.
Travel insurance has never been as important as now. Make sure it covers covid, including the isolation period before you fly home.
One of the distractions of the summer is the complication experienced by passengers boarding cruise ships, whose Covid insurance was deemed inadequate by the gangway attendants. Being right is no use if you lose the argument as you walk the plank.
7. Garda blues about passports.
Nobody could say it aloud, but when the great passport delay hit the headlines, one body of gentlemen were to blame. Finding the Garda that signed the witness form for first time applicants proved as elusive as the first salmon catch on the Moy.
While all the systems that we use to issue passports have been updated, and sideshows such as a printing machine in Cork hit the headlines, the logjam was caused by the old fashioned phone call to a Garda who was not due to be rostered until Tuesday next or has been promoted to a bigger job.
There is no certainty the window dressing of “closer liaison” will solve this problem. Get that application in as soon as the new-born baby arrives.
8. Three strikes and we are all out.
The summer round aviation strikes were more about headlines than about the havoc those promised. Ryanair’s Med-based cabin crew strikes were staged by tiny unions who did not have the muscle to cause enough cancelations to impact their schedule. SAS pilots and Belgian cabin crew were the exceptions, but neither affected mainstream holiday destinations.
An exception is the French air traffic control. Three unions are competing in terms of militancy and there is an uncertain political balance. This means that we can expect half of the flights to and from France and a significant number of overflights to places like Reus to be affected by two further strikes.
There is nothing airlines can do about this except cancel the required 50p% of their schedule and appeal to Brussels to allow neighbouring countries take command of overflights. It should not be that difficult.