Travel News

Virgin Atlantic reports strong bookings despite cost-of-living pressures - P.A.MEDIA

MARCH 15, 2022

Huge pent-up demand for international travel is minimising the impact on bookings from rises in the cost of living, according to Virgin Atlantic.

Chief executive Shai Weiss said the airline is experiencing an “unusual situation” as passenger numbers increase following the end of coronavirus restrictions despite spikes in household bills.

He told reporters at a press conference in central London that there is “tremendous pressure in the cost of living in the United Kingdom”.

He went on: “Pressures on discretionary spend have an impact in the long run on demand for travel.

“But what we’re seeing right now is an unusual situation where there is so much pent-up demand for families and businesses to get together.”

He continued: “It does not seem to have a dampening effect. I’m not saying we’re immune … but for now we don’t see it.”

Mr Weiss was speaking alongside Ed Bastian, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic’s partner carrier, Delta Air Lines, which is based in the US city of Atlanta.

Mr Bastian reported that his airline experienced its busiest ever booking day on Tuesday March 8.

“The US consumer is in a healthy position,” he said.

“Yes, there’s a lot of inflation, fuel prices now are near record levels in the US.

“But the US consumer has been saving and has built a considerable nest egg over the pandemic.”

He added that the airline “hasn’t seen any down tick” on demand for travel from the US to Europe despite the war in Ukraine.

Mr Weiss revealed that Virgin Atlantic is not planning to return to Gatwick Airport this year after consolidating its London operations at Heathrow due to the virus crisis.

He said Heathrow is “where our business hub is, this is where we connect with other carriers, this is where people want to fly”.

“Traditionally we’ve flown leisure routes out of Gatwick and we have slots at Gatwick” he said.

“We would like to think there is an opportunity for Gatwick, but it’s not this year.”

One-Way Flights Out of Hong Kong Fuel 300% Surge in Bookings - BLOOMBERG

MARCH 15, 2022

(Bloomberg) -- Demand for flights leaving Hong Kong is up as much as 306% on the same time last year as residents pack their bags amid on-and-off talk of mass Covid testing and lockdowns.

ForwardKeys, a Valencia, Spain-based travel data company, has observed a “steep rise” in outbound bookings from Jan. 4 to Mar. 7, with Singapore and Shanghai the most popular cities, according to data provided to Bloomberg.

The period starting Feb 8. saw the biggest jump in bookings, a time when Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam was flagging ever tighter Covid restrictions. Public gatherings were limited to two from four, hair salons were closed and stricter vaccine checks were required in shopping malls and supermarkets. Talks of mass lockdowns had also started to swirl early last month.

“People’s motivation is more to escape from a surge in Covid as more than 70% of travelers booked one-way tickets, increasing from only 26% pre-pandemic,” said Olivier Ponti, ForwardKeys’ vice president of insights.

For the seven days commencing March 1, weekly bookings were up 113% year-on-year but still down 84% on pre-pandemic levels -- underscoring how far away a recovery in air travel is for Hong Kong. Singapore is the most easily accessible destination to vaccinated Hong Kong residents, while Shanghai is only open to Chinese citizens.

Read more: Hong Kong Residents Escape to Singapore as Lockdown Looms

After a net record outflow of 71,354 people left Hong Kong in February, the exodus has continued this month as measured by official immigration border control data, although at a more muted rate. The net number of people leaving the Asian financial hub fell 20% last week.

While Shanghai is popular, flights there are now swiftly being curtailed by authorities after a spike in infections.

Hong Kong Airlines Ltd. has reduced services to twice weekly from seven, its website shows, while the total number of daily seats on flights between Hong Kong and Shanghai has been scaled back by 77% to just 408 as of Mar. 14 from Feb. 25, according to data from Cirium.

China reported 5,154 new local cases on Monday, according to figures published Tuesday. About half of Hong Kong’s 7.4 million people have already been infected with Covid, according to an estimate of the damage caused by the deadly omicron wave that’s overwhelmed the city.

International Flights Diverted From Shanghai as Virus Spreads - BLOOMBERG

MARCH 15, 2022

(Bloomberg) -- More than 100 international flights will be diverted away from Shanghai to other cities to ease pressure on quarantine hotels and isolation facilities in the financial hub as China battles growing pockets of Covid-19.

A total of 106 flights on 22 routes will be diverted between March 21 and May 1, state broadcaster CCTV reported Tuesday, citing a statement by the nation’s aviation authority. The flights are operated by Air China Ltd., China Eastern Airlines Corp., Shanghai Airlines Co., Juneyao Airlines Co. and Spring Airlines Co., CCTV said, without providing details of which routes would be affected. 

Bloomberg News reported Friday that China had discussed diverting flights from Shanghai, the country’s prime gateway for international travel since the start of the pandemic more than two years ago. The city, home to China’s main stock exchange and many corporate headquarters, had largely avoided Covid outbreaks until the recent flareup of the highly contagious omicron strain.

Shanghai, which reported 139 new Covid cases Monday compared with two at the start the month, has been implementing measures to contain the virus, including shutting most schools and public parks and blocking bus travel from other provinces. On Monday, authorities locked down Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest building. Nationwide, more than 5,000 new infections were reported Monday, the highest number since the early days of the pandemic, as the central government imposed mass lockdowns in parts of the country.

Under the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s plan, international flights to Shanghai will be diverted to 12 other cities across the country, including Chengdu, Dalian, Hangzhou and Fuzhou, according to the CCTV report. 

China’s mandatory quarantine policy and border curbs have severely reduced international flights into the country, with many carriers not flying there at all any more. Some foreign airlines are still operating despite punitive policies that have resulted in flight suspensions.

Dozens of flights into Shanghai, which has a population of about 25 million, were canceled Tuesday, the website for the city’s main airport showed. 

Chinese airlines were among the biggest decliners on a Bloomberg gauge of Asia-Pacific carriers on Tuesday, led by Spring Airlines with a loss of 4.8% as of 1:46 p.m. in Shanghai. 

Canada real estate: Buyers get more options while prices break more records - REUTERS

MARCH 15, 2022

Canada's real estate market gave buyers more options in February but demand quickly gobbled up supply, pushing prices to new record highs.

The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) says home sales rose 4.6 per cent in February compared to January, which it chalks up to a rebound in new listings. Sales were 8.2 per cent below the record set in February 2021, but still the second-busiest February on record led by Calgary and Edmonton.

New listings rebounded 23.7 per cent month-over-month after falling 10.8 per cent in January. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Calgary, and the Fraser Valley were key contributors.

Real estate in the coming months

CREA says the February uptick in supply is similar to 2020 and 2021.

"In the short term, expect at least one more month of stronger sales as the majority of those new listings came onto the market near the end of the month, so many of the associated sales likely won't happen until early March," said CREA's senior economist Shaun Cathcart.

"Ideally, listings will continue to come out in big numbers in the months ahead. Combined with higher interest rates and higher prices, we could be at a turning point where price growth begins to slow down and inventories finally begin to recover after seven years of declines."

Meanwhile, prices continue their upward trajectory. National home prices rose a record 3.5 per cent month-over-month in February and a record 29.2 per cent year-over-year.

Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia prices were a little higher than the national average. Quebec and Prince Edward Island were slightly below.

The effects of higher interest rates

The Bank of Canada has started raising rates and has signalled more are coming, which have historically put a damper on housing market enthusiasm.

"The Canadian housing market is running headlong into higher interest rates, and the next few months could be telling," said BMO senior economist Robert Kavcic.

"Fundamentally, it will still take a number of months for variable rates to rise enough to bite, and for low-rate pre-approvals to roll off. But sentiment can change in a hurry."

US airlines see strong travel recovery after Omicron - AFP

MARCH 15, 2022

Major US carriers lifted their revenue forecasts Tuesday as a faster-than-expected travel recovery from the latest Covid-19 wave mitigates the drag from higher jet fuel costs.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines all offered similar appraisals of market conditions in presentations at an investment conference Tuesday.

American now expects first-quarter revenues to be down 17 percent compared with the 2019 period, after previously projecting a drop of as much as 22 percent.


"The improvement in revenue is expected to more than offset the increases in fuel and other expenses in the quarter," American said in a securities filing.

Delta Air Lines reported "strong spring and summer travel demand" as it lifted its revenue forecast for the first quarter of 2022.

Southwest Airlines used similar language to describe booking trends, while United Airlines said that "in the period following the peak in Covid-19 case counts associated with the Omicron variant in January 2022, demand for travel has exceeded the company's previous expectations."

But higher jet fuel costs in light of spiking crude prices act as a counterweight to the improved travel outlook.

Delta now projects fuel prices of $2.80 a gallon, up from its prior range of $2.35 to $2.50. American and United also warned of a hit from fuel.

Rising fuel costs, along with aircraft delivery delays, were a factor in United's move to trim its overall flight capacity in 2022.

Southwest proved an exception since the carrier's hedging program locked in fuel costs when prices were lower. As of March 10, the program amounted to an asset of $883 million based on current prices for the commodity.

But Southwest also trimmed its flight schedule for the March to May period, citing "continuing challenges with available staffing."

Shares of airlines were sharply higher early Tuesday, with all four carriers up at least 5.6 percent.

Masks, PCR tests no longer needed in Namibia as COVID cases fall - REUTERS

MARCH 16, 2022

WINDHOEK, March 15 (Reuters) - The wearing of masks in public in Namibia and negative PCR tests for vaccinated visitors are no longer required, President Hage Geingob said on Tuesday, as active COVID-19 cases fall to just a couple of hundred.

Infections peaked at more than 30,000 per month in June 2021 but the southern African country has averaged 14 cases per day during the last seven days, with the total active cases at 222.

"Wearing of masks in public places is no longer mandatory," Geingob said in a televised briefing. People in closed spaces such as on public transport or in indoor public meetings were however encouraged to wear masks.

Fully vaccinated travellers to Namibia are also no longer required to produce negative PCR test results. Travellers to the country, famed for its stark desert-meets-ocean-landscape and safari drives, are now only allowed to produce a valid vaccination card at points of entry.

Visitor numbers are currently at a third of pre-pandemic levels, according to Geingob.

Only 21.4% of Namibia's eligible population of 1.7 million people have been fully vaccinated. The recommended population coverage to achieve national herd immunity is 60%.

Reporting by Nyasha Nyaungwa Editing by Tim Cocks and Nick Macfie

Heathrow airport drops mandatory face masks rule - YAHOO FINANCE

MARCH 16, 2022

Travellers going through Heathrow airport will no longer be required to use a face mask.

Several airlines, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are following suit. BA said that from today, passengers would only be required to wear a mask on the airline’s flight if their destination requires it.

Virgin Atlantic is also changing its mask mandates and no longer requires them on domestic flights.

For Heathrow, it means masks will no longer be needed in its terminals, rails stations of office buildings.

“We’re pleased that we are now able to move away from a mandatory requirement as society learns to live with COVID longer term,” Heathrow’s chief operating officer, Emma Gilthorpe, said.

“We can be confident the investments we’ve made in COVID-secure measures – some of which aren’t always visible – combined with the fantastic protection provided by the vaccine will continue to keep people safe while travelling.”

The airport said face coverings would remain available for people who still want to wear them.

“We know some passengers may feel vulnerable, and we are encouraging colleagues to be respectful and put on a face covering when near a passenger who requests it,” it said in a statement.

The move comes as the UK prepares to drop all pandemic-related travel restrictions. From Friday, testing and the passenger locator form for inbound travellers will be scrapped, including requirements for unvaccinated passengers.

It will be the first time since spring 2020 that travellers have been able to enter the country without restrictions.

BA chief operating officer Jason Mahoney said: “We welcome this as a really positive step forward. As an international airline we fly to a large number of countries around the world, all of which have their own local restrictions and legal requirements.

“We’re working through these and from Wednesday March 16, customers will only be required to wear a face covering on board our flights if the destination they’re travelling to requires it.

“For destinations where the wearing of a face covering is not mandated, our customers are able to make a personal choice, and we kindly request everyone respects each other’s preferences.”

Heathrow said that if there was a significant rise in infections or a future variant of concern, it would not hesitate to bring the mandate back.

Earlier this month, Jet2 became the first airline to drop its mask-wearing mandate, soon followed Tui with their own announcement. Ryanair revealed plans to ease out face masks by spring.

Air travellers seek review of COVID-19 test as UK removes all protocols - THE GUARDIAN

MARCH 16, 2022

Aviation stakeholders have urged the Federal Government to review mandatory COVID-19 test requirements to ease the burden of cost and lift artificial barriers to air connectivity.

The fresh call is coming on the heels of the United Kingdom’s policy to suspend all COVID-19 protocols by Friday. Findings showed that Nigeria remains one of the few countries yet to review or scale down the cost of COVID-19, though for commercial reasons rather than public health.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said that scientific evidence no longer supports the safety objectives of pre-departure COVID-19 tests for all travellers. Same for blanket quarantine, self-isolation at destinations, coupled with travel bans in some parts of the world.

Travel expert at Dart Logistics Limited, Yinka Ladipo, yesterday reckoned that the mandatory COVID-19 test protocol has outlived its usefulness, and is no longer helpful for the sector and the economy at large.

Ladipo, who is the publicity secretary of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), said even before the likes of UK that was worst-hit by the pandemic, Nigeria should have drastically reduce the cost of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, if eradicating the guideline is far-fetched.

“What we have is that they have turned the protocol to a commercial venture and those benefiting will not want it to end. The UK has a more complicated rate of infections. When last was any positive case recorded in Nigeria? I have not heard of any lately.

“So, one expects that the government should have dropped the cost to about N10, 000 because the high charges only made travel very expensive. Several African countries have reduced the rate. Nigeria taking off N5000 is nothing at all.

“We need to be more innovative instead of mounting unnecessary costs on travellers. High airfare is not helping our economy. There are a lot of people that want to come into our country but the cost of multiple COVID-19 tests is a put-off,” Ladipo said.

The British government, yesterday, said all remaining coronavirus measures for travellers, including passenger locator forms and the requirement that unvaccinated people be tested for COVID-19 before and after their arrivals, will end Friday to make going on holiday easier for the Easter school vacation.

Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said the changes would mean people “can travel just like in the good old days.” The news was welcomed by U.K. airlines such as Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, which said they are beginning to ease mask wearing requirements on some routes.

The announcement came as coronavirus infections were rising in all four parts of the U.K. — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — for the first time since the end of January. The latest government figures released Monday showed that there were more than 444,000 new cases recorded in the past seven days, up 48 per cent from the week before.

IATA noted that the impact of the costs of COVID-19 testing on family travel is even more severe. Based on average ticket prices of $200 for domestic travel and average low-end PCR testing ($90) twice each way, a journey for four that would have cost $1,600 pre-COVID could nearly double to $3,040—with $1440 being testing costs.

IATA’s Director-General, Willie Walsh, had said the experience of Omicron made it clear that travel restrictions have little to no impact in terms of preventing its spread.

“Moreover, as Omicron is already broadly present across the U.S., fully vaccinated travellers bring no extra risk to the local population. International travellers should face no additional screening requirements than what is applied to domestic travel.

“In fact, at this stage of the pandemic, travel should be managed in the same way as access to shopping malls, restaurants or offices,” Walsh said.

Chaos at airports as fuel scarcity disrupts operations - THE GUARDIAN

MARCH 16, 2022

By Wole Oyebade

*Fare hike crashes traffic by 40 per cent

It was a chaotic scene at airports yesterday, as fuel scarcity bit harder disrupting scheduled flight services for several hours.

Scores of air travellers that had turned up early for the morning rush hour were disappointed as carriers began to reschedule flights indefinitely, further disrupting services across airports nationwide.

At the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, it was bedlam at the departure wings, as most airlines announced delays to the shock of travellers.

The Guardian observed that Air Peace airline, the market-share leader, had a couple of hours delay but soon regained foothold on its scheduled operation. Arik Air, it was learnt, had a torrid time as its rescheduled morning flights only boarded in the afternoon

The situation was slightly different at the Murtala Muhammed Airport terminal two (MMA2), though not without multiple delays as the operators hunted for Jet A1.

The local airlines had lately raised the alarm over a massive spike in the price of aviation fuel, currently selling at about N620/litre at some airports nationwide, coupled with the scarcity of the commodity.

The operators said the “unbearable” spike and attendant disruption have made efficient air transport and affordable airfares unsustainable.

Recall that the carrier had in controversial circumstances earlier jacked up the base airfare by 66 per cent, scaling up the minimum ticket fare from about N30, 000 to N50, 000.

‘Today’s flight’ economy tickets sold for an average of N80, 000 on one-way, and its two-way is offered for about N130, 000.

A stranded passenger, Kemi Olowonyo, had her 8:15a.m. Lagos-Abuja flight yet to board as at noon.

“This is utterly frustrating. The airline started with a 30-minute delay. Then, it became one hour. When that ended, they announced another one-hour delay. The announcement has become a routine across the airlines. This is just painful, to even think that I paid N75, 000 for this ticket and still am not able to fly. I read that the airlines have signed an alliance to partner one another to avert delays. Why is that not working? It is sad,” Olowonyo said.

Chief Operating Officer (COO) of one of the airlines said it is tough getting fuel to power the airplanes on schedule.

“Even if you have the money to pay, you are at the mercy of the fuel marketers. None of them wants to sell on credit any more, but you have to first pay to be serviced. It is unfortunate, but what can an operator do?”

Travel agent, Adeseun Olabayo, said the effect of the disruption cuts across the board, with passenger traffic loss of 40 per cent.

“I think the government has to do something before the industry collapses. It is fast getting to the tipping point. A lot of customers are refusing to buy tickets at the high rate that airlines are offering. So, it is not in the interest of airlines to increase airfares to cover the astronomical increase in the price of fuel. In the alternative, a lot of people are taking to the road despite the risk. Only the very rich and desperate are buying the ticket, yet there is no schedule reliability,” Olabayo said.

Aviation fuel, also known as Jet A1, accounts for between 30 to 40 per cent of operating cost in aviation. As a deregulated arm that is exclusively controlled by suppliers, the price has consistently been fluctuating along with Naira to Dollar exchange rate.

The Guardian learnt that the fuel, which cost about N450/litre last month, has pushed up to N599 in the South and as much as N605/litre in some parts of the North, creating scarcity at the ramp and attendant flight delays.

A local carrier, Ibom Air, apologised to air travellers for its flight disruptions, blaming the development on fuel scarcity.

“We have encountered a situation today where aviation fuel is scarce and therefore unavailable at almost all our flight destinations. This has significantly impacted our flight schedule today and may do the same tomorrow.

“We sincerely apologise to all our passengers affected by the current situation. At this time, we have no indication when the issue will be resolved, however, we are working with our fellow airlines and fuel suppliers to find a solution,” the management stated.

UK: Nigerians Can Still Apply For Student, Work, Family Visas - NEW TELEGRAPH

MARCH 16, 2022

It is still possible for Nigerians to apply for the United Kingdom, UK student, work and family visas, the UK government has said.

The clarification follows the statement by the British High Commission in Nigeria on 15 March “temporary suspension of priority visas for student work and family applications”.

In its clarification on Wednesday, the UK embassy in a statement by Ndidiamaka Eze, Press and Public Affairs Officer/Communication Lead, Prosperity and Economic Development/ Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, stated the possibility of still being able to accommodate all applicants.

The High Commission, however, apologised for the inconvenience while promising to alert Nigerians when the ‘Priority’ and ‘Super Priority’ visa services resume.

The statement reads in part: “We are aware of reporting circulating in the Nigerian media and online that the UK has suspended student, work and family visas for Nigerian applicants.

“This is not true. It is still possible to apply for any category of UK visa in the usual way on gov.uk and via our Visa Applications Centres (VAC) in Nigeria.

“Our VACs remain open and customers are welcome to apply for a standard visa of any category in the usual manner, this includes student, family, work and visit visas.

“However, due to a reprioritisation of resources in response to the humanitarian crisis arising from the invasion of Ukraine, the UK has temporarily suspended its priority visa service.

“As our 15 March statement, made clear, this temporary suspension only applies to the UKVI’s expedited, added-value ‘Priority’ and ‘Super Priority’ visa services. This suspension is to enable the UKs global visa operation to prioritise applications for the new Ukraine Family Scheme.

“This decision to suspend priority visa services is also clearly stated on UKVI’s guidance page, which sets out the latest decision waiting times for visa applicants outside the UK: www.gov.uk/guidance/visa-decis...

“On behalf of UKVI, the British High Commission in Nigeria would like to apologise for any inconvenience this development has caused.

“The British High Commission in Nigeria will issue an updated statement the moment ‘Priority’ and ‘Super Priority’ visa services resume.”


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