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Airlines design routes to match changing passenger demand



Airlines upgrade the importance of once marginal destinations when drawing route maps to focus on flights where demand remains strongest following Covid-19.

Despite travel restrictions in some regions, people have continued to travel to visit family or friends scattered around the world, say airline executives, offering a resilient stream of revenue.

With leisure and business travel plunging on important transatlantic routes, airlines such as Virgin Atlantic have taken advantage of the demand for flights from the UK's South Asian diaspora to places such as Pakistan and India.

The British airline has also reported strong demand for its flights to Lagos in Nigeria. These routes have been up to 90 percent full, doubling the current industry's average load factor.

This is in contrast to the jet-setting image the company has cultivated in flying passengers across the Atlantic to New York and sunny winter destinations such as Florida.

Before the pandemic, the carrier relied heavily on long-distance routes to the United States, which was one of the most profitable, accounting for up to 70 percent of the carrier's seats.

But with US borders closed much of the last year and the current ban on international travel in the UK, the airline has had to tear down up the business model.

"We had to completely change our ways of working, be more flexible and seize the opportunities that are there," said Rikke Christensen, who runs network planning at Virgin Atlantic. [1

9659002] She added: "We had to do something to diversify our network strategy" and passengers traveling to visit friends and relatives – a segment known as VFR in the industry – have been "particularly resilient".

Other airlines have also experienced a shift in travel patterns, which has led some executives to question the assumption that long-haul flights are more prone to the pandemic than shorter trips.

This winter, BA generated more than 50 pr. percent of passenger revenue on non-transatlantic long-haul routes. The transatlantic route was one of its most profitable before the crisis.

Luis Gallego, CEO of BA owner IAG, said that long-haul flights to South Asia, West Africa and Latin America had proved more resilient than those across the Atlantic, which have fallen to between 15 and 20 percent of passenger revenue. the last six months.

"Conventional wisdom seems to be that long distance is the weakest segment at the moment, but that has not been our experience," Gallego said.

Air France and the American airline United Airlines have also been affected.

Air France has been boosted by demand for flights to former French territories, while United launched new direct flights to cities in South Asia and Africa last autumn.

Patrick Quayle, United Airlines' vice president of international networks and alliances, said the Chicago airline had long wanted to fly to Johannesburg, Lagos and Bangalore.

It has hubs in Chicago and near New York, with significant immigrant populations, and travelers want to be able to visit friends and family in Africa and India without connecting through Europe.

"This is about implementing our business plan at a time when VFR travel is quite robust," he said.

Quayle said the airline "absolutely" plans to maintain routes when the pandemic subsides.


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