One in three airline routes have been lost due to Covid-19, according to data from analytics company OAG. Prior to Covid-19, airlines operated nearly 50,000 routes globally. By November, this number fell to just over 33,000, according to Bloomberg.
Unprofitable routes, usually to less-populated destinations, have been first to go. It reflects the bleak reality that carriers have to face as demand is not expected to recover until 2024, and has led to fleet downsizing and mass layoffs. Simultaneously, these difficult decisions put entire communities at risk of being cut off.
Bloomberg reports that “With borders effectively shut from Europe to New Zealand, the bulk of the world’s dropped routes are inevitably cross-border. But thousands of domestic legs have also been axed, reflecting the pressure airlines face at home as they cut jobs and retire aircraft to find a cost base that reflects their shrunken situation.”
In October, Air Astana’s CEO Peter Foster, said that there will be at least half a dozen destinations across Russia, Southeast Asia, and Europe that they “may never fly to again”. The flag carrier saw capacity in the first nine months of 2020 fall 48 per cent year-on-year.
Other airlines have seen cuts as a prerequisite for government aid. Air France slashed its domestic network as a condition of its €7 billion state aid package. The carrier was instructed not to compete with TGV, an intercity high-speed railway operator, for routes under 2.5 hours. For travellers, this could mean longer journey times and additional hassle when transferring from one mode of transport to another.
The UK is particularly badly hit. Easyjet expects to fly “no more than” 20 per cent of capacity this quarter, while British Airways has ‘paused operations at Gatwick and closed its lounges at Heathrow.
In Asia, Singapore Airlines has recorded its biggest ever quarterly loss and retired 26 aircraft and Cathay Pacific will fly under 50 per cent of its pre-crisis capacity in 2021
While many routes have been cut due to plummeting demand, carriers have also been exploring less conventional, point-to-point routes which previously did not exist. United Airlines, for instance, will add 28 flights to Florida from US cities such as Indianapolis and Milwaukee as demand rises for leisure destinations closer to home. However, these incremental gains have done little to make up for the industry’s widespread cuts around the world.