Lufthansa Group Cuts Flights As Omicron Hits Bookings

The Lufthansa Group has axed 33,000 flights from the winter schedule as Omicron drives down travel demand. With much of Europe in lockdown or battling high infection rates, bookings have fallen sharply for January and February. Additionally, Lufthansa has said it is flying tens of thousands of flights more due to the EU’s slot rules.

Lufthansa Airbus A321neo
Lufthansa would have cut over 50,000 flights in the early months of 2022 if slot rules allowed them to. Photo: Airbus

Demand drop

According to Reuters, Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr told FAS that the group will cut 33,000 flights from its winter schedule. This represents a 10% cut in the entire network plan, a significant hit for the airline, which was hoping to make a recovery over the winter.

As countries battle Omicron, bookings for travel from mid-Jan to February have dropped sharply. This is not surprising given that much of central and western Europe are in partial or full lockdown due to surging cases. Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium have been noted as driving the drop in demand as these nations face huge waves.

Lufthansa Group Cuts Flights As Omicron Hits Bookings
Long-haul flights have been somewhat spared from the cuts compared to intra-European hops. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Airlines are already starting to see traffic fall as Europe imposes new travel restrictions. In the last few days, travelers from the UK, Demark, Norway, and the Netherlands have been subjected to stricter testing or quarantines.

Would be more

However, 10% is only the maximum the Lufthansa Group could have canceled from its winter plans. Spohr blasted the EU’s slot maintenance rules, saying it is forcing the airline to fly more unrequired flights. He said,

“We have to operate 18,000 additional, unnecessary flights in the winter just to secure our take-off and landing rights. While climate-friendly exemptions have been found in almost every other part of the world during the pandemic, the EU does not allow it in the same way. This harms the climate and is exactly the opposite of what the EU Commission wants to achieve with its ‘Fit for 55’ plan.”

Lufthansa Subsidiaries
Lufthansa says EU slot rules are forcing it to fly 18,000 additional, unneeded flights this winter. Photo: Lufthansa

In July, the EU set a new requirement that airlines must reach 50% slot utilization to prevent them from losing their spaces at airports. While these rules had been waived between 2020 and summer 2021, it came back into effect this winter. Now, fears about ghost flights may just be coming true.

In addition to being economically unfeasible, running extra flights is a huge environmental burden. With the industry trying to cut its emissions significantly in the next decade, the EU slot rule may be forcing carriers to do the exact opposite.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Recover soon

While Omicron has damaged the winter season, airlines are hoping that things will settle down by the busy summer months. Current evidence points to booster doses being effective against the variant, which means higher triple vaccinated rates will be key to reducing cases. For now, airlines will be hoping that they largely put COVID behind them by summer 2022, but there are no guarantees.

What do you think about Lufthansa’s decision to ax flights? Let us know in the comments!