How Slovenian Aviation Has Been Affected By COVID-19

COVID-19 has hit the aviation industry in Slovenia hard, because this European country is one of only a few that do not have a national airline. The news about airlines canceling routes and cutting frequencies on their flights to Slovenia keeps coming in, even when the whole country sees just a handful of flights a day. The winter season is looking concerning.

Lufthansa Airbus A350
Lufthansa will be the only airline offering regular connections to Ljubljana this winter. Photo: Getty Images

Just six flights today, only three tomorrow

Today, on Monday 7th September 2020, there were six scheduled flights landing in Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport (LJU). The only other airport in Slovenia, Maribor Edvard Rusjan Airport (MBX), does not have any scheduled flights at the moment.

The six flights are, in the order of their departure time:

  • 07:00 Lufthansa to Frankfurt
  • 09:15 Turkish Airlines to Istanbul
  • 10:00 Air Serbia to Belgrade
  • 12:25 Air France to Paris
  • 13:15 LOT Polish to Warsaw
  • 13:30 Lufthansa to Frankfurt
  • 20:20 easyJet to London Gatwick

For a European capital city, this is already a very small number of flights for a whole day. The connectivity out of Ljubljana, and thus out of all of Slovenia, is very low.

However, today is actually a relatively good day compared to some other days of the week. Tomorrow, on Tuesday 8th September, there will be only three scheduled flights out of Ljubljana! Two of them will be Lufthansa’s flights to Frankfurt, and one will be a Wizz Air flight to Brussels Charleroi.

Lufthansa, Airbus A320, Grounded
Lufthansa is one of only two airlines operating flights to Ljubljana tomorrow. Photo: Getty Images

More airlines are set to leave

Out of the six airlines that operated flights to Ljubljana today, most will cut capacity to Slovenia this winter, on top of cuts that have been made previously.

Lufthansa used to run a daily service between Munich and Ljubljana ever since the collapse of Adria Airways. The route was suspended in March, and tickets are no longer on sale until next year’s summer season. However, even this is likely to change when Lufthansa updates its timetable.

LOT has canceled all flights between Warsaw and Ljubljana from next week, Wednesday 16th September, onward. The next scheduled flight isn’t until the start of the winter season, but this is likely not to go ahead either because the Polish airline has not updated its schedule yet.

British Airways has canceled all of its planned flights between London Heathrow and Ljubljana for the entire year. The last flight it operated on this route was in August 2019. Flights are not on sale until May 2021, though this is likely to be postponed too.

Brussels Airlines, Fleet Cuts, Staff Cuts
Brussels Airlines has canceled flights for the winter season. Photo: Brussels Airlines

Brussels Airlines has canceled all flights between Brussels and Ljubljana until the start of the winter season in late October. However, the airline is yet to finalize its schedule for that time period, and so the daily service between Slovenia and Belgium is unlikely to return.

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The story is the same with Transavia, which is suspending all flights from Amsterdam to Ljubljana this week, with the last flight operating on Sunday 13th September. Tickets are on sale for the winter season, though the schedule is yet to be revised and so there are likely to be further mass cancelations.

Meanwhile, Swiss has discontinued all ticket sales to Ljubljana until the start of the 2021 summer season, but this again is likely to be postponed further when the Lufthansa Group airline updates its schedule.

With the loss of both Brussels Airlines and Swiss, Ljubljana has lost out on a strong element of connectivity since Lufthansa sells tickets for both of these airlines, and so travelers have more choice when making round trips that require flight connections.

British Airways take-off
British Airways has not operated a single flight to Ljubljana all year. Photo: Getty Images

At the same time, easyJet has significantly cut capacity and frequency on its routes to Ljubljana. Flights to Southend have been discontinued indefinitely, and Stansted too. Flights to Gatwick are ongoing, though with just a fraction of last year’s capacity, and the plans to launch flights from Ljubljana to London Luton have been postponed. easyJet is also ending its flights from Ljubljana to Berlin in September, for the remainder of the year.

Meanwhile, Windrose Airlines of Ukraine has decided not to go ahead with its planned launch of the new route between Ljubljana and Kyiv. Instead, Windrose is restoring plans to launch flights to Zagreb in Croatia. At the same time, Israir of Israel has canceled indefinitely its plans to launch flights from Ljubljana to Tel Aviv.

Adria Airways is notably absent

Slovenia’s connectivity has not been great ever since its former flag carrier, Adria Airways, collapsed in September last year. The former Slovenian flag carrier maintained routes to various European hubs throughout the day and throughout the week. For a relatively small country, Slovenia had an abundance of air connections, thanks to Adria Airways. However, this was a loss-making operation and so the airline expectedly collapsed.

Adria’s flights with the most frequencies were mainly to the Lufthansa Group hubs of Brussels, Frankfurt, Zurich, Vienna, and Munich. But Adria also had numerous connections and codeshare agreements to other major hubs like Paris, Amsterdam, and Moscow. Thus, connections out of  Slovenia were excellent.

Adria Airways
Adria Airways used to generate over half of Slovenia’s annual air traffic. Photo: Getty Images

Then, following Adria’s collapse, European airlines flocked to Slovenia to replace markets left vacant by Adria’s collapse. Brussels Airlines, Lufthansa, and Swiss stepped in within weeks of Adria’s collapse to cover its routes to Zurich, Frankfurt, Munich, and Brussels. Aeroflot, Montenegro Airlines, and Air France doubled the frequencies on their own services out of Ljubljana to Moscow, Podgorica, and Paris respectively.

As a result of COVID-19, this all changed, and most airlines that arrived in Slovenia to cover for Adria have now left. Unlike other countries, which could rely on their national carriers to maintain some form of connectivity, Slovenia is now left in a difficult position. These days it is noticeably more difficult for tourists to arrive into Slovenia and for Slovenian citizens to leave their country out of Ljubljana Airport.

The impact was also severe on the local businesses, which lost an important mode of transport they could use to transport exports. Furthermore, Slovenian citizens could not be easily rescued at the time when lockdowns were imposed across Europe this winter, and instead had to travel on other airlines to get home.

How long do you think Slovenia will be in this position? Let us know what you think of this story in the comments below.