Edinburgh Airport passengers react to travel restrictions as numbers plummet amid coronavirus pandemic

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Some passengers have had to cut short their travels

The arrivals hall at Edinburgh Airport is eerily quiet, as staff idle with few customers to deal with and metres and metres of queue management tape stand redundant.

Passenger numbers have plummeted amid the coronavirus pandemic, as flights are cancelled and many countries have closed borders to all but essential travel.

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Trade unions warned last week that hundreds of jobs are at risk, as the airport said it was facing three months of “zero or close to zero passenger demand”.

Travellers have been telling the Evening News about their experiencesTravellers have been telling the Evening News about their experiences
Travellers have been telling the Evening News about their experiences | JPIMedia

Staff at British Airways, Ryanair, EasyJet and holiday company Tui could also be at risk.

Airlines and travel companies have been the biggest casualties on the plunging stock markets. Tui fell 34.4 per cent on the FTSE, while British Airways parent IAG dropped 24 per cent and EasyJet fell 17.1 per cent.

UK government ministers have hinted they may be in talks to give airlines a multi-billion pound bailout to cope with the crisis, as the Centre for Aviation warned that “most airlines in the world will be bankrupt” by May.

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IAG, the owner of British Airways, has said it will cut capacity by “at least 75 per cent”, while Ryanair and EasyJet have grounded most of their fleets. Norweigian Air has cancelled 85 per cent of its flights and will temporarily suspend more than 7,300 workers, 90 per cent of its staff, with a view to re-employing them if the crisis dies down.

Sven Barnik and Aviar ArusaluSven Barnik and Aviar Arusalu
Sven Barnik and Aviar Arusalu | JPIMedia

Holiday company Tui will suspend the majority of its operations.

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Beth HayBeth Hay
Beth Hay | JPIMedia

Edinburgh Airport chiefs entered emergency consultation talks with unions on Friday, as all 750 directly employed airport staff were told in meetings with managers that budgets must be slashed in the wake of plummeting demand.

Measures on the table include unpaid holidays and reduced working hours.

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A quieter than usual Edinburgh AirportA quieter than usual Edinburgh Airport
A quieter than usual Edinburgh Airport | JPIMedia

It is hoped job losses will be avoided, however 100 jobs are at risk of redundancy.

Of the 750 staff, around 300 work in security, with airside operations, engineers and IT staff also affected by the move.

In total 7,500 people work on the wider airport campus or rely on the airport indirectly for employment.

A spokesperson for Edinburgh Airport said it was facing an “unprecedented situation” as the coronavirus outbreak directly impacted the business.

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“Extremely tough decisions” would have to be taken in dealing with the fallout from the virus, they added.

Unite the union branded the problems facing the aviation industry as a “crisis”.

Frank and Maureen HornbyFrank and Maureen Hornby
Frank and Maureen Hornby | JPIMedia

“By the end of May 2020, most airlines in the world will be bankrupt,” warned a statement from the Centre for Aviation on Monday.

“Coordinated government and industry action is needed – now – if catastrophe is to be avoided,” it said.

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“As the impact of the coronavirus and multiple government travel reactions sweep through our world, many airlines have probably already been driven into technical bankruptcy, or are at least substantially in breach of debt covenants.

“Cash reserves are running down quickly as fleets are grounded and what flights there are operate much less than half full.

“Forward bookings are far outweighed by cancellations and each time there is a new government recommendation it is to discourage flying. Demand is drying up in ways that are completely unprecedented. Normality is not yet on the horizon,” the statement added.

Travelling using Edinburgh Airport have been having their say on travel restrictions imposed, with some admitting they had to cut their travels short due to the pandemic.

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Beth Hay said: “I’ve just come back from five months in Sri Lanka. I had to come back three days early – I wasn’t that worried, but my mum was. I made friends out there and they were all starting to jump ship, so Mum and Dad wanted me to leave before things started to go on lockdown and I got stuck out there.”

Frank and Maureen Hornby told the Evening News: “We’re on our way home to Dundee after five weeks in Queensland, Australia with our daughter who lives there. We went online and heard they would be checking people’s temperatures at the airport in Dubai, but there was nothing, no checks at all.”

Sisters Esther and Deborah Veen said: “We’re sisters, we’re going back to Holland after a sightseeing tour of Scotland. It looks like Scotland is two weeks behind though, as there is much more panic in Holland. The airport was quiet in Amsterdam when we came out.”

Sven Barnik and Aviar Arusalu, who were in Europe for business, said: “We’re going back to Estonia after travelling around the UK on business. We were supposed to stay until the end of the month but we are going home early. We need to leave because our country will close the borders tomorrow.”

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British trade body Airlines UK also issued a message to ministers.

“The time for action is now. No more delays or prevarication or bean counting.

“We’re talking about the future of UK aviation – one of our world-class industries – and unless government pulls itself together, who knows what will be left of it once we get out of this mess,” a statement said.

UK government transport secretary Grant Shapps hinted that there may be a possible bailout for airlines on the cards.

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“We want to make sure that companies and individuals and organisations who are in a good state – not those that are going to fail anyway – are able to continue,” he told Sky News.

Asked if a bailout of airlines was on the table, Mr Shapps said: “There are lots of different options here, including some other things that people have been looking for, for example HMRC offer a ‘time to pay’.”

Several airlines have called for government support through the slump.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “European aviation faces a precarious future and it is clear that coordinated government backing will be required to ensure the industry survives and is able to continue to operate when the crisis is over.”

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German-based holiday firm Tui said it plans to apply for “state aid guarantees” to support the business.

General Secretary of Unite the Union Len McCluskey called on the Prime Minister on Monday to bail out airlines in order to protect the jobs of workers.

“If you do not take urgent action to support the aviation industry in the UK, there is absolute certainty that tens of thousands of jobs will be put at risk, and the industry will be unable to resume effectively once this health crisis has passed,” he said in a letter to Mr Johnson yesterday.

Edinburgh Airport pulled in just under 15 million passengers in 2019, but is expecting to see the number of people travelling plummet due to the spread of coronavirus.

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EasyJet formerly ran 40 flights out of Edinburgh Airport, to destinations including Berlin, Copenhagen, Naples, Milan, Madrid, Lisbon, Paris and London.

Ryanair ran 58 flights, including to Venice, Tallinn, Rome, Nantes and Ibiza.

A UK government spokesman said: “We recognise how difficult the current situation is for the aviation sector and, across government, we are engaging with the sector’s leadership to support workers, businesses and passengers.

“We have influenced the European commission to relax flight slots, and HMRC is ready to help all businesses, including airlines, and self-employed individuals, experiencing temporary financial difficulties due to coronavirus.”