Domestic air travel resumes with poor passenger turnout

Airlines drop fares to get more passengers, keeping 30pc seat vacant worsens situation
- A Monitor Desk Report 02 Jun, 2020 | 1041 Views|-+
Dhaka: After over two months of suspension of air travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic flight operation was partly resumed from June 1 on three routes from the capital - Chattogram, Sylhet and Saidpur. However, it is seeing a poor passenger turnout, forcing airlines to cancel flights and drop fares to a bare minimum to encourage more people to fly.

Three local carriers - Biman Bangladesh Airlines, US-Bangla Airlines and NOVOAIR - initially planned to operate 23 daily round trip flights: 11 on Dhaka-Chattogram-Dhaka, eight on Dhaka-Saidpur-Dhaka and four on Dhaka-Sylhet-Dhaka routes.

However, due to lack of passengers, Biman had to cancel all 12 flights on the three domestic routes today.

"We were forced to cancel all 12 flights scheduled for today as number of passengers was very low," Tahera Khandaker, Deputy General Manager, Public Relations, Biman said in a statement.

She also mentioned earlier, on June 1, the first day of resuming domestic air travel, the flag carrier also cancelled all flights except for two due to few passengers.

A Biman flight on Dhaka-Saidpur route on June 1 took off with only four passengers on board while the return flight had 20 passengers, said Tahera.

Apart from Biman, US-Bangla Airlines on June 1 was also forced to cancel its two flights on Chattogram route due to a small number of passengers, said Kamrul Islam, General Manager, Public Relations, of the largest private carrier.

"Though we had to cancel two evening flights to Chattogram on June 1, we received a satisfactory number of passengers in our rest eight flights," he added.

However, NOVOAIR, on the other hand, was able to operate all seven scheduled flights to these three destinations from Dhaka on June 1.

Beginning with its first post-shutdown flight to Saidpur at 7:15 am, NOVOAIR operated three flights each on Dhaka-Chattogram-Dhaka and Dhaka-Saidpur-Dhaka routes and one flight on Dhaka-Sylhet-Dhaka route.

"We have received on average 60 per cent passengers on June 1 for every flight after leaving 30 per cent seats empty at our 72-seater ATR aircraft," said Mahfuzul Alam, Senior Manager, Marketing and Sales, NOVOAIR.

On today's condition, officials of both the private airlines said they operated flights on three domestic routes with 50 to 55 load factor.

"People are still in panic about travelling as the number of COVID-19 patients are increasing day by day. Therefore, number of passengers are still low," said Kamrul Islam of US-Bangla.

As a result, the airlines are offering tickets at low fares in special promos to encourage more people to fly and survive these tough times caused by the pandemic. For instance, Biman, US-Bangla and NOVOAIR are selling tickets at BDT 2,500, BDT 1,999 and BDT 2,500 as starting prices respectively for one way flights on the three currently operated routes.

Meanwhile, Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman, Chairman of CAAB has thanked all passengers and airlines for following health guidelines, including the social distancing instructions, issued by the office.

He claimed that CAAB inspectors were deployed at the airports to monitor whether the airlines and airline staff are following the health guidelines.

According to CAAB guideline, all airlines have to keep at least 30 per cent seats vacant on each flight to ensure social distancing by keeping at least a gap of a seat between two passengers if they are not from the same family.

Not to mention, this only adds to the worries of the airlines since it is economically very unfeasible. While the airlines are struggling to get passengers to fly amid the coronavirus pandemic, keeping 30 per cent seats empty on every flight, on top of it, only worsens the situation for them.

Nevertheless, all airlines must disinfect the aircraft before boarding passengers every time while passengers' body temperature are measured and they have to stand in queues in front of the check-in counters and in front of the boarding gates maintaining social distancing.

Furthermore, onboard, the cabin crew must wear N-95 or equivalent protection facial masks, goggles, disposable rubber gloves and change facial masks every four hours, read CAAB's guideline.

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