British Airways planes less than half full in peak summer months

Simon Calder
·2-min read
Farewell flights: British Airways final Boeing 747s depart from Heathrow airport (British Airways)
Farewell flights: British Airways final Boeing 747s depart from Heathrow airport (British Airways)

Planes belonging to British Airways and its sister airlines flew less than half-full in the peak summer months of July, August and September – despite capacity just 22 per cent of last year’s levels.

BA’s parent company, IAG, has revealed its preliminary results for the third quarter of 2020 – and announced deeper cuts for the final three months of the year, as coronavirus infections increase across Europe.

As a result of heavy losses and a bleak outlook, a quarter of the much-reduced schedule of flights for the rest of the year will be axed.

The results also cover Iberia and Vueling of Spain, and Aer Lingus of Ireland.

The summer peak is normally the most profitable season for many airlines. But a €1.4bn (£1.28bn) profit in 2019 turned into a €1.3bn (£1.19bn) loss. It represents a loss of £13m per day.

While capacity across the airlines was cut to just 21.4 per cent of last summer’s, passenger numbers fell even more steeply – resulting in an average “load factor” of 48.9 per cent. In other words, the typical flight was less than half-full.

In 2019, the corresponding load factor was 87.9 per cent.

The airline group paints a picture of an even gloomier winter than previously expected.

IAG’s statement says: “Recent overall bookings have not developed as previously expected due to additional measures implemented by many European governments in response to a second wave of Covid-19 infections, including an increase in local lockdowns and extension of quarantine requirements to travellers from an increasing number of countries.

“At the same time, initiatives designed to replace quarantine periods and increase customer confidence to book and travel, such as pre-departure testing and air corridor arrangements, have not been adopted by governments as quickly as anticipated.”

An airport test-before-travel trial at BA’s home base, Heathrow, opened this week, but is currently in operation only for flights to Hong Kong – a destination off-limits to most travellers.

The IAG airlines previously planned to fly 40 per cent of last year’s schedule in October, November and December, but that has been cut to 30 per cent.

Across Europe, a pattern is emerging of a resurgence of bookings in July and August but a collapse in passenger confidence from September onwards.

The Latvian carrier Air Baltic filled fewer than 30 per cent of its seats in September, compared with half-full planes in July and August.

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