Summer is about to take off – at least in much of Europe



Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.

As with the clocks, so with the airlines – or at least that is the hope. On Sunday 27 March, synchronized with the change in the clocks in Europe, the airlines’ summer schedules begin. And the hope that this will be the first “near normal” summer for international travel since 2019.

Of the big European airports, by far the worst affected has been Gatwick – previously in the top 10, ahead of Copenhagen, Vienna, Rome and many other hubs.

The expensive and onerous restrictions that the UK chose to impose on arrivals for much of the coronavirus pandemic caused such a collapse in traffic that the South Terminal – representing more than half of the airport’s capacity – has been mothballed for 21 months.

The coming weeks will see the Sussex facility return to something like normal – effectively, opening a medium-sized airport overnight, almost doubling the number of flights.

But it will look rather different. Wizz Air will be launching a new Gatwick network, though by Tuesday it will be eclipsed with the return of BA’s European operations. This is actually a new subsidiary of British Airways: EuroFlyer, a low-cost company that aims to deliver BA standards but on a cheap enough basis to be able to compete with low-cost airlines.

According to Cirium, the aviation data analysts, next month will see the highest number of departures from Gatwick – almost 10,000 – since December 2019. That’s 30 times as many as a year earlier, when the government ban on international leisure travel was still in effect .

The largest airline from Gatwick by a country mile is easyJet – with around six out of 10 of those departures. Next are sister airlines British Airways and Vueling of Spain, both with almost 700 each – just one in seven flights between them.

Manchester airport is also seeing something of a reopening, though not an especially smooth one. The northwest hub has been heavily criticized for security delays this week. Terminal 3 was due to reopen, but in fact passengers for Terminal 3 airlines – including British Airways and Ryanair – will be processed through Terminal 1 before being directed to T3 gates. Loganair and Eastern passengers will leave from T1 but return to T3.

Karen Smart, the managing director of Manchester airport, said: “After almost two years of closure, it is a positive step forward on the road to recovery to be able to partially reopen Terminal 3 and resume operating from both runways.” Manchester’s second runway will reopen on 5 April.

One tragic omission from the schedules: Odessa. Sunday should have been the day when this wonderful Ukrainian city was placed on the map for UK travellers, with new links from both Luton on Wizz Air and from Stansted on Ryanair. I have a ticket for the latter: flight RK7630, due to depart at 3.15pm.

Instead, I will spend next week traveling through the borderlands of Russia: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, doing what I can to support the tourist industries. Travel connects humanity, spreads wealth and creates joy. I hope your summer looks promising.


www.independent.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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