Two of Europe’s largest airlines took the rare step of restricting sales of all but their most expensive tickets while cancelling another set of flights as the disruption gripping aviation worsened.
Lufthansa and KLM put the measures in place to help ease the travel problems caused by staff shortages and the rise in demand for seats since the relaxation of Covid-19 rules.
Andrew Charlton, managing director at consultancy Aviation Advocacy, said airlines had long used flexible ticket prices to manage demand and revenue but that it was highly unusual to “blatantly” use it for logistical reasons.
It is part of a wider problem as airlines across Europe resort to drastic and sometimes unorthodox measures to try to avert last-minute cancellations and disruption, with the industry selling far more seats than it can comfortably handle this summer.
Lufthansa said it had stopped the sale of some low-cost tickets “for a short period of a few days” to allow passengers affected by cancellations to rebook.
While the special measures were in place, journeys were priced at a flat rate of €500 per flight, leaving even domestic return trips costing €1,000.
The airline said the plan had “worked” and that the restrictions had been lifted by Friday.
The Dutch operations of Air France-KLM also said it would “strongly restrict” the sale of remaining tickets for flights to European destinations on KLM and its regional airline KLM Cityhopper.
The cheapest London to Amsterdam economy return trip in July on KLM was £700 on Friday afternoon, up from about £140 last month, according to Google Flights data.
The unusual step taken by both airlines in effect prices out most people, leaving space for customers whose planes have been cancelled, according to an industry executive. KLM has also stopped taking cargo on some flights to relieve the pressure on its ground handlers.
It is not the first time airlines have taken unusual steps.
EasyJet earlier this year stripped out the seats from some of its planes to allow them to operate with fewer crew, while BA this week cancelled 10,000 flights, taking its overall cancellations for the summer to about 30,000. It has now cut 13 per cent of its original summer schedule.
“The chaos is real, and to recover airlines need to take a methodical approach,” Charlton said.
In many cases, airlines are cancelling flights because of problems out of their immediate control, including staffing crunches at hub airports, while passengers are often rebooked on flights on the same day.
Lufthansa said it has cancelled 770 flights to try to give its operations more resilience in the busiest periods in the afternoon and evenings.
The cancellations would affect flights to and from Frankfurt and Munich airports and run until July 14, the airline said. After that, further changes to the summer flight schedule “are possible at a later date”.
“The entire system is experiencing an unprecedented operational crisis, all over the world. We expected (and were hoping for) a boom in air travel, but this intensity is overwhelming,” Lufthansa chief executive Jens Ritter wrote in a post on LinkedIn.
“We do want to offer reliable flights — in a system that has become highly unreliable. So unfortunately, the most immediate lever we have is cancelling flights,” Ritter wrote.
Separately, KLM will cancel up to 20 round-trip flights a day in Europe until the end of August.
The airline has been badly hit by problems at Schiphol airport, its Amsterdam hub, which has suffered staff shortages this summer.
KLM said “work pressure at Amsterdam Schiphol airport is currently relentless”.