Travel companies around the world are responding to the coronavirus outbreak. With such uncertainty surrounding the entire travel sector and new information emerging every day, we’ve created this hub of information to help industry insiders stay up to date with all the most important news and insights.
We think it’s a time to put competition aside and bring airlines from around the world together to share best practices and to ensure every carrier survives and ultimately thrives following coronavirus. We’ll also be sharing opinions and analysis from members of the 15below team so remember to keep coming back to this page.
A recent estimate by IATA suggests schedule cuts have left the airline industry with a $35 billion refund liability worldwide.
The Department of Transportation is forcing travel companies to offer refunds due to an increase in passenger complaints after many airlines have been offering travel vouchers as an alternative. The Department of Transportation has said: "The focus is not on whether the flight disruptions are within or outside the carrier’s control, but rather on the fact that the cancellation is through no fault of the passenger."
Easyjet founder claims that, if an outstanding order for 107 Airbus aircraft is cancelled, the airline will not need UK government loans
EasyJet founder Stelios Haji-Iaonnou has stated that he will not inject further capital into the business while a contract for new aircraft is outstanding. While the airline is - like most others - facing financial difficulties amid the COVID-19 crisis, Hai-Ioannou claims that cancellation or renegotiation of this contract will put Easyjet in a much stronger position, and will negate the need for support from the UK government.
Economic analysis by Airports Council International suggests worldwide passenger traffic "may not recover to pre-coronavirus levels until the end of 2021"
ACI World director general, Angela Gittens, has joined industry leaders to urge governments to implement economic policies to help the industry through the crisis, saying:
"A fair and equitable global economic policy response is required to safeguard essential airport operations, to protect millions of jobs worldwide, and to ensure the survival of the industry and lay the foundation for a fair recovery.”
American Airlines to apply for $12 billion in rescue grants and loans
The U.S. CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) offers passenger airlines up to $25 billion in federal grants, plus up to $25 billion in federal loans for those that are eligible.
By accepting the grant, American Airlines must commit to continuing its service to markets it flew to as of 1st March.
Al Tredinnick, Head of Business Development at 15below commented: "It’s fantastic to see such generous support available for passenger airlines in the U.S. during these incredibly challenging times.
While such a significant loan may prolong the challenges these carriers face, $25 billion in grants for employee support will make a considerable difference while airlines are losing more in cancellations than they’re generating in new bookings. After yesterday’s news that the Dubai government is set to provide a capital injection to Emirates, I’m hopeful that other governments around the world will start to follow suit to keep the aviation industry on its feet until the crisis we find ourselves in has passed."
Frontier to reduce April flight capacity by more than 90%
Frontier is the first U.S. airline to announce such a big cut. The carrier announced that "If there is strong compliance with the U.S. government's current guidance for Americans to stay at home for an additional 30 days, the airline will be in a position to gradually build flight capacity back up to as much as 35% in May and 100% in the latter half of the year."
15below is working with Frontier to send out all of its cancellation notifications, and the airline will now spend time focusing on aircraft cleaning, plus optimisation of operational systems.
Emirates to receive capital injection from Dubai government
The Dubai government is set to provide a capital injection to Emirates to help the airline through the coronavirus crisis. Dubai’s crown prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has confirmed the goverment is "committed to providing full support" to Emirates, which has cancelled all passenger flights in response to the outbreak.
US airlines pledge to retain staff in exchange for bailout
10 leading airlines in the US have joined together to ask Congress to approve a $58 billion bailout that will see them through the coronavirus crisis. In exchange for $29 billion of payroll protection grants, the airlines have promised not to furlough or lay off any staff until at least 1st September. A jointly-signed letter outlining the request came from executives at Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, as well as cargo carriers Atlas Air, FedEx Express and UPS Airlines.
Gemma Chalk, Head of Account Management, EMEA & Americas at 15below, says: "15below has been working hard to support the teams at JetBlue and Hawaiian, two of the airlines to have written to US Congress to plead for a bail out from the coronavirus crisis.
“These airlines are filled with crew members who really care about how the virus impacts their airline and their customers. These people are needed now more than ever, yet across the globe airlines are reducing their workforce as the real impact of coronavirus is realised.”
EasyJet grounds fleet
Low-cost airline EasyJet has confirmed it is grounding its entire fleet and is unable to give a date for any future return. It said it will continue to run rescue flights to bring British citizens stranded abroad back to the UK. EasyJet normally operates over 1,000 routes across Europe and more than 1,600 flights each day.
American blocks middle seats to separate passengers
American Airlines has given gate agents the power to reassign seats to passengers in a bid to keep middle seats on its planes empty, as well as those close to flight attendant jump seats.
The airline has also suspended its checked pet service, although carry-on pets will still be allowed.
Coronavirus 'an opportunity for airlines to build loyalty'
Nicholas Key, CEO at 15below, said in an interview with PhocusWire that communication is the key for airlines looking to successfully come through the coronavirus crisis.
"All the passengers understand this is a situation that is not the airlines’ fault but as with all these kind of situations it’s an opportunity to build loyalty to show passengers they are looking after them," he explained.
"The number one way to look after them I believe is by clear, accurate communications to give them the options, to allow them to self-serve to give them the waivers and the different vehicles airlines have to enable or empower their passengers to make those decisions."
Read Nicholas' full interview here.
Hotel boss believes industry will recover by summer
Sebastien Bazin, CEO of hotel chain Accor, believes the hotel industry will recover from the coronavirus crisis by the summer.
Speaking in a video released to employees, he said Accor will "come back and basically be who we are" by the summer months.
Ryanair reduces staff and executive pay for 2 months
Europe's largest airline, Ryanair has cut pay by 50% for all staff - including executives - during April and May.
Chief Executive Michael O'Leary says the low-cost carrier is currently working on a best-case scenario of two to three months without flights, but admits "honestly none of us have any idea".
"The priority here for us as a company is how do we preserve as much cash so that if we have to operate for three, six, nine, maybe even 12 months, with no flights and no revenues how do we survive that, do we have the cash to survive that and we believe we do," he adds.
World's busiest airport to close
Dubai Airport, the busiest airport in the world, will effectively shut down from 25th March. The UAE has decided to suspend all passenger flights in and out of the country.
Al Tredinnick, Head of Business Development at 15below, says: “With about 90 million people flying in or out of Dubai Airport each year, an indefinite shutdown will disrupt a huge number of passengers.
“Airlines will now be busy working through how this will affect their routes and those that haven’t cancelled flights yet will now have to do so.
“We are doing our best to provide our solution to any airline that doesn’t yet have it and may be struggling with manual systems. In most cases, we can implement the 15below base platform in just 72 hours, enabling airlines to reach all their passengers with only minimal human input.”
Find out more about implementing our base platform in just 72 hours.
Flight Centre utilising 15below platform to send bulk notifications to passengers
We received more positive feedback from Flight Centre this week. Flight Centre has been using the 15below platform to process and send large volumes of notifications to keep its customers informed of cancellations and updates to their itinerary.
James Gough, Website Customer Support at Flight Centre, says: "I have been trying for the longest time to utilise [the 15below platform] to its fullest. Perhaps it's at this time of carnage that [we] can see the real benefits. Since I have been mass notifying customers, we have noticed our hold times drop MASSIVELY. So I'm very grateful for that!"
Qantas suspends international flights
Qantas has announced all its international flights from Australia will be suspended from the end of March until at least the end of May.
15below will continue to work with Qantas to support its team as it works through the task of notifying all affected passengers.
British Airways thanks 15below for coronavirus communications
It's an incredibly tough time for the industry right now, which makes us prouder than ever to know the 15below platform is making a difference to our customers. We've had some fantastic feedback this week, with British Airways the latest to get in touch. We've been processing and sending huge volumes of cancellation notifications and other messages for the airline to help it stay connected to its passengers every step of the way.
Michael O'Hagan, Commercial Operations Manager at British Airways, says: "From all of us at BA, firstly let me thank you and the wider 15below team for the continuing support during these extraordinary times.
"We recognise that we and every other carrier in your extended family are communicating with customers like never before, and we couldn't do it without you.
"So thanks for the update and continuing support. Please pass on our heartfelt thanks to the rest of the 15below family."
To find out how automated communications benefit an airline in these difficult times compared with relying on a manual response, view our brand new infographic.
Australian government announces $715m airline bailout
The Australian government will oversee a $715 million bailout to support airlines affected by the coronavirus outbreak. It will waive security levies, jet fuel excise and Airservices charges.
Alex Thornton, Head of Account Management, Asia-Pacific at 15below, says: “This rescue package provides a much-needed boost to airlines across Australia that have been severely affected by coronavirus.
“Airlines are being forced to operate in unprecedented circumstances and government support is the only way to ensure the survival of many of the world’s favourite carriers.
“I expect other countries to follow Australia’s policy and ease trading conditions for airlines to ensure crucial air routes and connections are able to resume as quickly as possible following the coronavirus crisis.”
Australians told to return home
Australian citizens around the world have been urged to return to the country immediately due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised people to take the first available opportunity to use commercial travel to get home.
Alex Thornton, Head of Account Management, Asia-Pacific at 15below, responded to the news with an update on the situation in Australia:
"All airlines have been watching the government rules and reacted accordingly for both their home markets and destination markets. This period has been highly volatile as you might expect. Everything moves rapidly and airlines in Australia and the wider region are having to act fast.
"As we are now moving towards lockdowns, many airlines are taking appropriate steps to mitigate the impact. Social distancing rules are coming into place, making flying, psychologically, a potential risk, so airlines will have to combat this by taking decisive action to protect themselves in the short term.
"I expect to see airlines stop flying for a few weeks, like we have seen in China. They will continue to fly cargo to ensure the supply chain is maintained.
"This feels like we have hit that global reset button and we will come through this with new ideas to mitigate future risks, work in harmony with our neighbours and make travel environmentally sustainable.”
Cebu Pacific using email and 'Manage my Booking' to process refunds
Cebu Pacific has issued new advice for passengers affected by flight cancellations.
We've been working with the airline to ensure it's been able to quickly and easily send a large volume of emails that allow it to stay connected to passengers throughout this period of disruption.
British Airways and EasyJet to ground planes
British Airways has announced plans to cut capacity by at least 75% in April and May, while EasyJet believes it may have to ground most of its fleet.
We will continue to work with all our customers - including British Airways - to ease the operational load of communicating news of cancellations and changes to passengers.
Ryanair and Aer Lingus remove flight change fees
Ryanair and Aer Lingus have given passengers more freedom to change flights they no longer want to take by removing all change fees.
Until 31st March, all Ryanair customers with either new or existing bookings will be able to switch to an alternative flight without incurring a fee. Aer Lingus will not charge for changes to online bookings made before 6th March for travel in March, April or May.
Ryanair has today used the 15below platform to process affected PNRs and send a high volume of notifications to passengers regarding this change of policy, helping to effectively keep its customers informed and empowered at this uncertain time.
British Airways stresses importance of passenger contact details
Gemma Chalk, Head of Account Management, EMEA & Americas at 15below, says: "It's so important that passengers keep their contact details up to date in flight bookings so that airlines can continue to communicate updates in these fast moving circumstances.
"15below works with our airline customers, such as British Airways, to source contact details from multiple systems including the reservation system, CRMs, frequent flyer platforms and more to ensure we have the greatest reach with passengers."
Find out how to reach more passengers during disruption in our contactability blog.
US bans flights from Europe
The US has announced a ban on all flights from the 26 European countries in the Schengen border-free travel area for 30 days as it attempts to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Al Tredinnick, Head of Business Development at 15below, says: “This news will clearly have a significant financial effect on all airlines operating to and from the US, but the operational impact will vary greatly between those that use a sophisticated passenger communications platform and others that still rely on manual processes.
“Informing hundreds of thousands of passengers of changes to their trip is a quick and simple task when using a specialist system, but a lengthy, inaccurate and expensive process if run through a call centre.
"Passengers will understand upcoming flight cancellations are out of the control of their airline, but they will still expect to receive clear and timely communications.
“It’s important for airlines to remember they are dealing with individuals. We know airlines care about their passengers and there is plenty of great data in each booking that we can help to extract that will allow them to deliver empathetic messages.
“Since the coronavirus outbreak began, we’ve seen an increase in interest from airlines that do not have a passenger communications platform in place. Many have already realised this is a challenge they can no longer tackle manually.
“That’s why we’ve made extra resource available to work with new customers to help them access our base platform. Following just a few days of implementation, an airline could be using our system to send all important coronavirus-related passenger communications in a matter of minutes. It’s not too late to act.”
Ryanair cancels Italy flights
Ryanair has suspended all flights to, from and within Italy until 8th April. The airline is using the 15below platform to contact all affected passengers with information regarding their trip.
Gemma Chalk, Head of Account Management, EMEA and Americas at 15below, says: “We are pleased to be able to support Ryanair as it uses the 15below platform to send an increased number of passenger notifications at this time.
“Ryanair has sent over two million notifications through the 15below platform over the last 10 days to ensure every passenger receives important, personalised information in relation to their flight. This includes details on how to move to an alternative flight or obtain a full refund.
“We will continue to work closely with all our customers over the coming weeks to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on their operations and to ensure they are able to quickly and reliably reach all their passengers with important updates.”
15below reveals 23% increase in SMS sends and 19% rise in emails
New statistics from 15below show SMS sends via our platform increased by 23% in February year-on-year, while our customers also delivered 19% more emails to travellers. We've been helping many of our customers deal with the implications of the coronavirus by easily, quickly and reliably reaching passengers to inform them of cancellations and changes to their flights.
Nicholas Key, CEO at 15below, says: “We are ready to support our customers by enabling them to meet the challenges posed by the coronavirus and manage the inevitable consequences, including mass flight cancellations.
“Managing this kind of widespread travel disruption is exactly what the 15below platform is designed to do best. We have the capacity and processing power to allow airlines to send tens of thousands of messages to passengers in just a few minutes with minimal human input, freeing staff to focus on the wider impact.
“The coronavirus undoubtedly presents a difficult and challenging scenario for airlines, but great passenger communications will be key to managing it successfully.
“If any airlines or travel companies would like advice on how to tackle the specific challenges presented by COVID-19 they should get in touch.”
Southwest CEO: Decline in bookings "not too shocking" but an "overreaction"
Southwest CEO Southwest CEO Gary Kelly has revealed his airline has suffered a "very noticeable, precipitous decline in bookings" in the last week as the spread of the coronavirus continues. Mr Kelly said the trend is not surprising considering the anxiety many people are feeling, adding: "I definitely think it's an overreaction, but nonetheless it is happening."
Flybe goes into administration
Everybody at 15below is extremely sad to learn of the collapse of Flybe, a customer of ours since 2018. The UK regional carrier announced this morning it was going into administration, revealing the coronavirus is partly to blame for its demise.
Gemma Chalk, Head of Account Management, EMEA & Americas at 15below, says: "The whole team at 15below are deeply saddened by the news of the collapse of Flybe on 5th March. I know that the past couple of years has been a lot of work and a real struggle for the team including a large IT and PSS migration, periods of uncertainty, then the high of being rescued by the Connect Airways consortium.
"We have worked very closely with the fantastically talented team at Flybe through their PSS migration and adoption of the 15below platform integrated with Amadeus for Disruption management. We have developed great working relationships with the team and are continuing to do all we can to support them at this time.
"Despite their entering into administration, the 15below platform remains available to Flybe to continue to contact their affected passengers and keep them informed as plans evolve. 15below is doing all we can to ease this very difficult time for Flybe and their passengers.
"We are sending our best wishes to the Flybe team."
IATA updates revenue forecast
IATA has updated its analysis of the financial impact of the coronavirus on the global air transport industry. The industry body now believes airlines will suffer a reduction in revenue of between $63 billion and $113 billion in 2020; significantly higher than its February estimate of $29.2 billion.
British Airways offers passengers increased flexibility
British Airways has introduced free changes for all passengers booking flights between 3rd and 16th March. Travellers will be able to change their booking to any date in the next 12 months if required.
AirAsia X offers annual pass to entice travellers
Malaysian budget airline AirAsia X has launched a one-year pass for unlimited flights to Australia, Japan, Korea, China and India. Costing just $119, the ticket is one of the most innovative responses to the impact of the coronavirus seen so far.
TUI bookings hit but still up on 2019
TUI Group says that it has “experienced weaker bookings in the last week” following the outbreaks in northern Italy and Tenerife, but “due to the strong trading prior to last week, year-to-date bookings remain well above prior year”.
JetBlue is first airline to offer free change and cancellation options
JetBlue has suspended all change and cancellation fees for new flight bookings made between 27th February and 11th March for travel through to 1st June. The policy will allow passengers to book flights in confidence as they will be able to amend or cancel their booking without penalty should the impact of coronavirus on travel change.