In 2019, while airlines were reaping record profit, including billions in baggage fees alone, Norwegian secured emergency funding to keep the airline running, amid financial woes and heavy debts. With more passengers flying than any time in history, there was strong belief that volume could still turn the game around.
When Thomas Cook went bust later that same year, necks immediately craned not just toward Norwegian, but TUI, with many wondering how a virtually identical company could stay afloat. And that were during boom times.
Now, just a few months later UK airline Flybe has gone bust, the latest victim of media hysteria and viral fears, but are they the last? With plummeting passenger numbers and fears around world travel showing no sign of change any time soon, there’s fear that while Flybe was the first airline forced into administration in 2020, it won’t be the last.
The next four months will tell the tale.
Spring is now in bloom, travel is on the collective mind and with any and all hope, Coronavirus hysteria may finally be on a downturn. For airlines, that’s certainly the hope. Norwegian is already facing grim finances, but a busy summer season could shore up cash woes, at least temporarily – if they can fill planes. If they can’t, indications point to the airline not living to see the summer season.
This makes Norwegian’s move to squeeze customers, charging for a full sized carry on, on long haul flights incredibly ill timed. The move was announced just before peak Coronavirus hysteria, and puts the airline product at a disadvantage to legacy airlines matching fares, but still delivering essentials.
What’s important here is not to panic if you are thinking of booking. All tickets booked with a credit card would be eligible for charge back protection, and any tickets issued via a travel agent would also have additional travel protections to get you home, or to where you want to go, even if that means an alternative airline.
In short, the worries of longevity for these businesses are legitimate, but fear from purchasing any new tickets would seal their fate. At risk airlines must find a way to restore public faith and at the moment, they’re trying everything.
Virtually all avenues are being pursued from waived change fees to ultra low fares, and even the largest and most solvent airlines are following suit. For the brave, or those unfettered by Coronavirus, travel opportunity is everywhere.
If you see a deal you want on one of these airlines, just be smart about how you book it, to ensure you’re all set if things were to take an unlikely turn, and be careful with booking any non refundable travel extras, like hotels.
Airlines going bust is more than planes or slots being sold at auction. Lives are impacted, and in a time of global turmoil, new jobs aren’t easy to find. The demise of Flybe meant 2,000+ people out of work overnight, with many more jobs at regional UK airports in jeopardy. With the entire global airline world in a downturn, hiring those from fallen airlines isn’t as easy as it was when Thomas Cook folded.
No one wants another, but if people don’t fly, there’s not much which can be done.
Whatever the course of the future may be, we as travelers owe a debt to airlines like Norwegian. Those ultra low, sub $300 international airfares du jour are a direct result of market pressure created by this emerging “long haul, low cost” concept, and they made once exclusive international travel accessible to the masses.
Whether the long haul low cost concept, or the high street package holiday will remain is to be seen. Let’s hope there’s a need for both.