Lufthansa Cargo, Cathay Pacific add Swiss WorldCargo to air freight agreement

Lufthansa Cargo Cathay Pacific Swiss WorldCargo

Lufthansa Cargo and Cathay Pacific have expanded their cargo partnership to include Swiss WorldCargo, which they say will provide customers with more choice.  

The freight arm of Germany’s Lufthansa Group and the Hong Kong-based airline first set up their cargo joint business agreement in 2016, allowing them to coordinate sales, pricing, contracts, and the handling of shipments between Hong Kong and Europe.  

Adding Swiss WorldCargo to the agreement will see the airlines initially cooperate on traffic from Hong Kong to Zurich and Frankfurt. Traffic to and from Hong Kong and the rest of Europe will be included in the expansion with Swiss WorldCargo later this year, the carriers said.  

The expanded partnership comes amidst a busy time for the air freight industry, with supply chain problems resulting from COVID-19 restrictions having boosted the importance of air freight as a method of transporting goods. Lufthansa Cargo has posted record financial results and says an end to the air cargo boom is not in sight.  

Swiss World Cargo is the air freight arm of Swiss International Air Lines, itself a part of the Lufthansa Group.  

“The addition of Swiss WorldCargo’s flights to the already large combined network of Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) will further bring Hong Kong, the world’s busiest air cargo hub, closer to Europe and strengthen one of the world’s great trade lanes,” commented Cathay Pacific Director Cargo Tom Owen in a statement on May 31, 2022.  

Lufthansa Cargo CEO Dorothea von Boxberg said cargo customers should gain quicker and easier shipping. “The expanded joint venture will generate numerous benefits for our customers because our networks, our hubs and our fleet complement each other effectively.” 

The carriers said the joint activities will be carried out in compliance with all relevant laws, including those in Hong Kong and the European Union. 

Source: Aerotime Hub

Canada must remove travel restrictions

Canada travel restrictions

IATA has again called on the Canadian Government to urgently discontinue its COVID-19 related travel restrictions. These are now out of step with the global trend of lifting travel restrictions and are partly responsible for the ongoing delays and disruption affecting air travelers across Canada.

“Canada has become a total outlier in managing COVID-19 and travel. Though governments across the globe are rolling back restrictions, the Government of Canada is reinstating them. The government should follow the lead of its peers, including, for example, Australia. Though that country had some of the toughest travel restrictions during the height of the pandemic, it has now lifted them, including the vaccination requirement. Rather than following this example and enabling travel and tourism to recover, those in power in Canada believe that throwing more red tape at the pandemic is the way forward,” said Peter Cerda, IATA’s Regional Vice President for the Americas.

IATA is calling on the Government of Canada to quickly address the following issues:

  • Remove random testing of international arriving passengers
    If, as announced, random testing is reinstated from 19 July 2022, then travelers will be forced to either go to a designated testing center or administer a self-test after arrival. In case of a positive test result, travelers must isolate for 10 days, which is twice as long as the average isolation period recommend by any provincial or territorial health authority in Canada and once again singles out travelers compared with the rest of the population.
  • End the vaccination requirement for international travel
    The vaccination mandate for international travel to Canada is in essence obsolete, as only the basic immunization and no booster shots are required to be considered fully vaccinated. In addition, the proof of vaccination is no longer used in everyday life in Canada. Ending this travel-related mandate would remove the need for the manual and time-intensive documentation check at flight origins outside Canada and during immigration upon arrival.
  • Use ArriveCAN solely as an entry tool for customs
    The removal of the vaccination mandate would also allow ArriveCAN to be used solely for customs and immigration purposes and not for capturing and validating COVID-19 related health and vaccination information. This is what is slowing down border processing. In addition, airlines are now being asked to provide a list of passengers who have not completed ArriveCAN not later than one hour after the departure of an international flight to Canada. This is tying up critical staff at a time when resources are already stretched to the limit.
  • Ending Mask Mandates
    Mask mandates at airports and on aircraft need to be withdrawn, especially since they are no longer in place in most public settings in Canada, including public transport and sporting venues.

“After more than two-years of onerous COVID-19 restrictions people want to be able to travel again, as we can clearly see from the current level of demand. Ramping up the entire value chain has come with some challenges. Maintaining outdated COVID-19 restrictions contributes to the delays passengers are experiencing at major Canadian international gateways. Governments need to ensure that travel restrictions are designed to address today’s environment, not the environment of the previous two years. Now is the time for the Government of Canada to join its counterparts around the world and remove unnecessary and outdated measures,” said Cerda.

Source: Airlines.

A toxic culture and ‘race to the bottom’: Pilots open up on why air travel is in chaos

air travel is in chaos

Canceled flights. Long lines. Staff walkouts. Missing luggage. 

Sound familiar? The chaos engulfing many major airports in North America and Europe since summer hasn’t abated much, and news outlets and social media users continue to report on hordes of impatient travelers and mountains of misplaced suitcases.

Just this week, German carrier Lufthansa canceled nearly all its flights in Frankfurt and Munich, stranding some 130,000 travelers due to a one-day walkout by its ground staff who were on strike for better pay.  

London’s Heathrow Airport and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport — two of the largest travel hubs in Europe —slashed their passenger capacity and demanded that airlines cut flights in and out of their airports, which angered both travelers and airline managers.

Carriers in the U.S. have also canceled and delayed tens of thousands of flights due to staffing shortages and weather issues. 

Airlines are vocally laying the blame on airports and governments. On Monday, the chief financial officer of low-cost European carrier Ryanair, Neil Sorahan, complained that airports “had one job to do.”

But many of those working in the industry say airlines are partly responsible for staff shortages as well, and the situation is becoming dire enough that it could threaten safety. 

CNBC spoke to several pilots flying for major airlines, all of whom described fatigue due to long hours and what they said was opportunism and a desire to cut costs as part of a toxic “race to the bottom” culture pervading the industry and worsening the messy situation that travelers are facing today.

All the airline staff spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to the press.   

‘Absolute carnage’

“From a passenger point of view, it’s an absolute nightmare,” a pilot for European low-cost carrier easyJet told CNBC. 

“Leading into the summer, it was absolute carnage because airlines didn’t know what they were doing. They didn’t have a proper plan in place. All they knew they wanted to do was try and fly as much as humanly possible – almost as if the pandemic had never happened,” the pilot said. 

“But they forgot that they’d cut all of their resources.”

The ensuing imbalance has “made our life an absolute mess, both cabin crew and pilots,” the pilot added, explaining how a shortage of ground staff since the pandemic layoffs — those who handle baggage, check-in, security and more — has created a domino effect that’s throwing a wrench into flying schedules.

“A bit of a toxic soup … the airports and the airlines share an equal level of blame” – Pilot – Emirates Airlines.

In a statement, easyJet said that the health and wellbeing of employees is “our highest priority,” stressing that “we take our responsibilities as an employer very seriously and employ our people on local contracts on competitive terms and in line with local legislation.”

The industry is now hobbled by a combination of factors: not having enough resources for retraining, former staff not wanting to return, and poor pay that has largely remained suppressed since pandemic-era cuts, despite significantly improved revenue for airlines. 

“They’ve told us pilots we are on pay cuts until at least 2030 — except all the managers are back on full pay plus pay rises for inflation,” a pilot for British Airways said. 

“Various governments with their restrictions and no support for the aviation sector” as well as airport companies are in large part to blame for the current chaos, the pilot said, adding that “some airlines took advantage of the situation to cut salaries, make new contracts and lay people off, and now that things are back to normal they can’t cope.”

While many airports and airlines are now recruiting and offering better pay, the required training programs and security clearance processors are also severely cut back and overwhelmed, further hobbling the sector.  

‘They are shocked, which is incredible’

British Airways ground staff were set to strike in August over the fact that their full pay had still not been reinstated — something especially stinging at a time when the CEO of BA’s parent company, IAG, was given a £250,000 ($303,000) gross living allowance for the year. 

But this week, the airline and workers’ union agreed on a salary increase to call off the planned strike, though some staff say it’s still not a full return to their pre-pandemic pay.  

In a statement, British Airways said, “The last two years have been devastating for the entire aviation industry. We took action to restructure our business to survive and to save jobs.”

The company also said “the vast majority of redundancies during this time period were voluntary.”

“We’re completely focused on building resilience into our operation to give customers the certainty they deserve,” the airline said.

IAG CEO Luis Gallego, whose company owns BA, forfeited his £900,000 bonus in 2021 and took voluntary salary reductions in 2020 and 2021, and did not receive his 2020 bonus.

“They just want the cheapest labor to produce their own big bonuses and keep shareholders happy” – Pilot, British Airways

One pilot flying for Dubai’s flagship Emirates Airline said that a short-term mindset that took employees for granted had for years been laying the groundwork for today’s situation.

The airlines “were happy to try and depress wages for lots of people in the industry for years, on the assumption that nobody had anywhere else to go,” the pilot said. “And now that people are exercising their right to go somewhere else, they are shocked, which is incredible. I’m shocked that they’re shocked.”

A safety risk?

All this stress for airline staff comes on top of the often-ignored issue of pilot fatigue, all the pilots interviewed by CNBC said.

The legal maximum limit for a pilot’s flying time is 900 hours per year. But for many airlines, “that wasn’t seen as the absolute maximum, it was seen as the target to try and make everybody’s workload as efficient as possible,” the easyJet pilot said.

“That’s the big worry with us is that we’ve got a fairly toxic culture, an inordinate amount of work,” the Emirates pilot echoed. “That all adds up to potentially reducing the safety margin. And that’s a big concern.”

All this has been combined with low pay and less attractive contracts, the pilots say, many of which were rewritten when the pandemic turned air travel on its head.

“A bit of a toxic soup of all of those, the airports and the airlines share an equal level of blame. It’s been a race to the bottom for years,” the Emirates pilot said. “They’re only going to ever try and pay as little as they can get away with paying.”

Emirates Airline did not reply to a CNBC request for comment. 

‘Race to the bottom’

“Crony capitalists. Rat race to the bottom. No respect for skilled workforce now,” the BA pilot said of the industry’s corporate leadership. “They just want the cheapest labor to produce their own big bonuses and keep shareholders happy.”

The International Air Transport Association said in response to these criticisms that “the airline industry is ramping up resources as quickly as possible to safely and efficiently meet the needs of travelers.” It acknowledged that “there is no doubt that these are tough times for the industry’s workers, particularly where they are in short supply.”

The trade group has issued recommendations “to attract and retain talent in the ground handling sector,” and said in a statement that “securing additional resources where deficiencies exist is among the top priorities of industry management teams around the world.”

“And in the meantime,” it added, “the patience of travelers.”

Source: CNBC Travel

Ethiopian Airlines Becomes The 1st African Carrier To Order The Airbus A350-1000

Ethiopian Airlines and the A350

Ethiopian Airlines has become Africa’s first airline customer of Airbus’ flagship A350-1000 aircraft. The carrier confirmed on Thursday that it has upsized four of its existing Airbus A350-900s on order to the larger -1000 variant.

This is not the first time that Ethiopian Airlines has debuted an aircraft in Africa – it was also the first African airline to operate the A350-900 when it took delivery of the type in June 2016.

Today, the Star Alliance member boasts 18 A350-900s in its fleet of 121 passenger aircraft, and it will take delivery of two more A350-900s, in addition to the four A350-1000s. This makes Ethiopian Airlines the joint six-largest operator of the A350-900, together with Air China and Air France. The list is topped by Singapore Airlines, with 53 A350-900s and 7 A350-900ULRs in its fleet.

While the aircraft manufacturer did not provide a timeframe for the deliveries, Airbus celebrated the agreement with Ethiopian Airlines, with its President – Africa and Middle East, Mikail Houari, stating,

“We are proud of our strong partnership with Ethiopian Airlines – the first airline in Africa to order and operate the A350-900. In another first, Ethiopian Airlines is once again leading the way in Africa’s aviation sector by introducing the A350-1000, the largest version of the world’s most efficient and technologically advanced passenger aircraft.”

Ethiopian Airlines and the A350-1000

Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO, Mesfin Tasew, marked the deal, saying,

“We are delighted over the upsizing of the A350-900 on order to the largest variant, A350-1000, that helps us stay ahead of the curve in technology. We are the technology leaders in the continent introducing the latest technology and fuel-efficient fleet into Africa. The A350-1000 is the best fit for our dense routes, and we believe that the upsizing will be instrumental in satisfying the increasing demand of customers in our vast global network across five continents.”

Designed to compete with Boeing’s 777-300ER and 777-9, the A350-1000 is the largest variant of the A350 family, measuring 74 meters in length. Qatar Airways was the type’s launch customer, operating the first commercial flight in February 2018.

Africa’s largest airline

For several years prior to the pandemic, Ethiopian Airlines was on an impressive growth trajectory, which saw it become the largest airline in Africa by both passengers carried and by destinations served, ahead of Egyptair and Royal Air Maroc.

The airline’s recovery from the pandemic has been strong, and it once again operates an extensive route network of over 130 destinations across five continents. Ethiopian Airlines recently announced its 16th European destination, with fifth-freedom flights to Zurich being tagged onto its Milan-Malpensa services from October 31st. The carrier will also commence flights to Amman on September 19th.

The Airbus A350 is the ideal choice to drive this recovery – with its carbon-fiber fuselage and wings, and fuel-efficient Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, the aircraft offers a 25% reduction in fuel-burn and CO2 emissions compared to previous twin-aisle aircraft.

Source: Simple Flying

Dubai Police warn travellers about buying cheap airline tickets

cheap airline tickets

Dubai Police have warned people of the dangers of buying last-minute airline tickets for just a fraction of the usual price after arresting a man who booked several tickets for people using a stolen credit card.

The man, from an Asian country, defrauded dozens of people and bought airline tickets by creating a fake online travel agency and using a stolen credit card.

Dubai Police did not specify how many tickets were bought or their value.

Col Saeed Al Hajiri, director of the Cybercrime Department at Dubai Police, said airline ticket fraud usually flourishes in the summer and holiday seasons, but the number of cases in the emirate has dropped significantly.

Dubai Police recorded 36 cases of airline ticket fraud between 2009 and June of this year.

The Asian suspect has been the only case so far this year, compared with eight cases last year. Dubai Police recorded two cases in 2020, amid the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent drop in overall travel.

“Fake airline ticket scammers are usually active during the summer season but there has been a dramatic drop in the number of cases in Dubai. This year we recorded one case,” Col Al Hajiri told The National.

Dubai Police said the arrest was part of an continuing operation called “Bats Hunt”, which is in co-operation with Interpol, airline companies and global airports.

Col Al Hajiri urged the public to book their airline tickets through verified airline companies and agents.

“Be careful before you buy or you could wind up with no ticket and losing your money to criminals,” he said.

“Always buy the ticket from official channels. Sometimes scammers make a fake website posing as an official agent or airline company.”

He advised travellers to check the approved list of travel agents in the UAE with the Economic Development Department, as well as the travel agent’s permission or licences.

Social media advert for tickets

Fatima Jameel, an Egyptian resident in the UAE, said her friend was a victim of an airline ticket swindle after buying tickets through an advert on a social media platform.

“She contacted the number to buy a ticket to an Arab country and wired the money to an unknown woman. Upon receiving the tickets, my friend discovered it was fake,” said Fatima.

The fraudster, who was living outside the UAE, blocked the woman’s number and did not reply to her messages. The victim filed a case — which is still under investigation — but her travel plans were ruined.

Dubai Police said criminals have also targeted people staying illegally in the country by promising a work visa for a country outside the UAE and airline tickets in exchange for money.

“Despite the awareness campaigns, some people fall prey while searching for low-cost tickets. We recorded 390 cases in the last three years where violators were conned by scammers,” Col Al Hajiri said.

Police advise the public to report any fraud via the Dubai Police E-crime platform on Dubai Police’s website, the Smart Police Station or the Dubai Police application on smartphones.

Source: The National News

Kenyans visiting USA to wait until June 2024 for visa interviews

Kenyans visiting USA

The US Embassy in Nairobi has suspended appointments for visa interviews until June 2024 owing to high demand and Covid-linked backlogs.

In a statement released on Monday, the embassy acknowledged the frustrations that Kenyans travelling to the US are going through.

“Currently, the first available dates for a visitor visa appointment in Nairobi are in June 2024. U.S. Embassy Nairobi recognizes the significant challenges and frustrations this poses for Kenyans planning to visit the United States for business and tourism,” read the statement seen by Business Daily.

Kenyans on social media have expressed their frustrations in recent days over what they have termed as unfair visa rules. Others have been forced to cancel travel plans over delays in processing the critical document.

The embassy said that non-immigrant visa interviews at the Nairobi office ceased for over a year due to Covid-19 safety measures.

“As we work through the backlog of applications and address the high demand for services, we recognize that some applicants may face extended visa interview wait times. This is a worldwide problem that US embassies are diligently striving to address,” the embassy said.

However, the embassy has committed to expediting appointments for emergencies such as the death of an immediate family member and people travelling for urgent medical care.

Students whose programmes start in less than 30 days and are likely to lose their scholarships will also be given priority. 

Further, the embassy has committed to doubling the number of interviews to clear the current backlog. 

“We instituted a visa renewal process that does not require an in-person interview for certain applicants. Kenyans renewing visitor (B1/B2 category) or student visas (F category) whose visas expired less than one year ago may be eligible to renew without an interview,” said the embassy.

Source: Business Daily

African airlines deserve more than lip service

African airlines

Kamil Alawadhi, IATA’s Regional Vice President, Africa & Middle East, says governments must walk the walk and support African aviation.

Aviation’s post-pandemic recovery was predicted to be uneven across markets and dependent on financial and economic factors, government policies, and the relaxation of travel restrictions and requirements.

Partly, this was caused by the aviation industry grounding to a halt worldwide in 2020. To stay afloat, airlines, airports, ground handlers, and other services suppliers accumulated debt in various shapes and forms, which they now must repay.

At the same time, across the board, in industry and governments, hundreds of thousands of staff were retrenched, retired, or furloughed to cut costs and preserve cash. Many industry players are now trying to rehire or hire new people, but for various reasons—such as the slow pace of security vetting of new airport-based workers in the United Kingdom—many entities are ill-equipped to take full advantage of the surges in demand that are being seen as markets reopen. Instead, we have entered the surreal, where airlines are forced to cancel thousands of flights. And London-Heathrow, an iconic global hub, has capped traffic at 100,000 passengers a day to prevent operational gridlock.

Traffic flows

Although Africa’s airlines and airports are not experiencing the same chaos as many of the big northern hemisphere gateways, their recovery and sustainability are affected as they are heavily dependent on north-south traffic flows. They are struggling to find a sure footing in the face of numerous other factors facing them too.

For most African carriers, this is an arduous journey with no relief or support from any of the continent’s governments, despite public acknowledgement of the vital social and economic contributions airlines make. And so, those African airlines that have survived COVID are once again being pushed to the brink, with at least one carrier, Comair, going into bankruptcy.

These factors include rising charges for infrastructure and other services, as airports, air navigation service providers, regulatory bodies, and other suppliers look to recoup foregone revenues and cover their inflationary costs. 

In some countries, notably Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, the situation has exacerbated shortages of foreign exchange, prompting central banks to block or severely limit the repatriation of more than $800 million of foreign airlines’ revenues derived from sales in those territories.

On top of this are increasing demands and pressure to invest in and adopt environmentally sustainable technologies and processes.

Fuel prices

By far the biggest headache for every airline is the sharp increase in fuel prices.  Even though Africa only accounts for 1.9% of the global air travel market, the continent’s carriers are not immune to this geopolitical shock.

According to IATA’s most recent analysis, the global average jet fuel price in mid-July was $146.4/barrel. At this level, airlines worldwide will incur an extra $134.3 billion to their combined total fuel bill for 2022.

Although fuel prices have come off their June 2022 peak, in Africa, jet kerosene sells at a premium and averaged $160.63/barrel for the first ten days of July. This was 79.8% higher than it had been over the same period last year. 

To put this in perspective, aviation fuel historically accounted for between 20%– 25% of most African airlines’ cost base. Today, it can be as much as half, if not more, and is their biggest single line item. Although airlines are trying to mitigate the combined impact of jet fuel prices and other inflationary costs, they are running out of headroom. 

Jet fuel usually trades at a $20 premium over crude oil, but this gap has widened to more than $50 since March.

This compounds the challenge many African carriers face. They generate most of their revenues in weaker home currencies but incur their input costs, often including fuel, in US dollars and euros.  Every time the dollar price of fuel goes up or the dollar strengthens against softer local currencies, the revenue-cost gap widens.

It may seem incongruous that jet fuel in Africa, which boasts several oil-producing nations, should sell at such a premium. A large component of the additional cost relates to transport and logistics. Because jet fuel is no longer refined in Africa, it must be imported, shipped by sea, and transported from harbors to inland storage depots and airports, often far from the coast. In some places, it is carried by rail or pipeline, but for the most part, it is transported by road. 

In addition to the logistics and associated costs, recent events, such as the trucking blockades on South Africa’s motorway between Durban and Johannesburg and the floods that swept away sections of the rail tracks linking the two cities underscored the vulnerability of these supply lines.

The floods around Durban triggered a jet fuel supply crisis at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport, which is unlikely to be resolved before Q4 this year. At its onset, this caused some airlines to cancel flights, with others incurring additional expenses as they diverted flights to refuel at other airports or carried extra fuel (if they could do so). Recently, pressure on fuel supplies intensified with the National Refinery (NATREF) in South Africa shutting down. It operates the dedicated jet fuel pipeline to the airport.

Political will

With so much of Africa’s fortunes dependent on safe, efficient, and affordable air transport, the sustainability of its airlines—both state and privately owned—is crucial.   It is time for governments to do more than pay lip service.

The industry does not require state bailouts. Relief from rising statutory charges and taxes on fuel and aviation would be far more effective. The release of blocked funds is crucial, as is the guarantee of secure, reliable, and efficient fuel supplies. Lifting caps on foreign investment and equity in African airlines would also bring much-needed liquidity.

At an intra-Africa level, the biggest and most achievable wins require all African governments to demonstrate their political will by removing the barriers to market entry and ensuring fair and equal treatment for all carriers in each market. This is the basis for the African Union’s Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM). Africa’s leaders have been talking about it and signing solemn undertakings since 1988. Having talked the talk, now it is time to walk the walk!

Source: Airlines.

WTTC and ETC urge governments to address travel industry labour shortage

travel industry labour shortage

The current labour shortage could have serious implications on the recovery of Europe’s travel and tourism sector, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and the European Travel Commission (ETC).

According to the industry bodies, close to 1.2 million jobs across Europe will remain unfilled during the summer period, with travel agencies forecasted to be the hardest hit with a 30 per cent shortfall of workers.

Meanwhile, the air transport and accommodation segments are likely to suffer one in five unfilled vacancies, representing 21 per cent and 22 per cent staff shortage respectively.

WTTC president and CEO, Julia Simpson said: “Europe showed one of the strongest recoveries in 2021, ahead of the global average. However, current shortages of labour can delay this trend and put additional pressure on an already embattled sector.

“Governments and the private sector need to come together to provide the best opportunities for people looking for the great career opportunities that the travel sector offers,” she added.

In 2020, at the peak of the pandemic, close to 1.7 million jobs (direct employment) were lost across Europe’s travel sector. As governments eased restrictions and borders reopened in 2021, the sector’s direct contribution to the region’s economy recovered by 30.4 per cent and recovered 571,000 jobs, according to WTTC.

This year, WTTC projects the sector’s recovery will continue to accelerate and almost reach pre-pandemic levels, but only if “urgent action” is taken to address the labour shortfall.

Together with ETC, the council urged governments to implement new policies to facilitate labour mobility across borders. 

The industry bodies also called upon the private sector to offer comprehensive training to upskill workers and adopt digital solutions to improve daily operations.

ETC president, Luis Araujo, said attracting and retaining new talent is one of the sector’s “biggest challenges” and requires a “coordinated, multi-layered and joint (public and private)” response. 

Source: BTN Europe

Kenya Airways and Virgin Atlantic seal Interline Agreement

Kenya Airways and Virgin Atlantic seal Interline Agreement

Kenya Airways has continued its strategic move towards enhancing its network through partnerships with airlines across the world. The national carrier has added Virgin Atlantic as its latest interline partner, providing convenience to its customers through seamless connectivity.

This year alone, Kenya Airways has expanded its codeshare with SAA and Delta Airlines, sealed interlined agreements with Jetblue and Africa World Airlines as the theme of partnership for growth reverberates across a post-pandemic African aviation industry.

Under the agreement with Virgin Atlantic, Kenya Airways will extend its reach in the US, the Caribbean, and Israel via London.

What does this mean for passengers?

Passengers flying to London will be able to connect with Virgin Atlantic-operated flights to Boston, Washington, Atlanta, Austin, Miami, Orlando, Las Vegas, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Antigua, Barbados, The Bahamas, Jamaica, Grenada, and Tel Aviv among others.

The agreement further enables Virgin Atlantic passengers to book a through ticket to Nairobi and enjoy seamless connections to Kenya Airways destinations across Africa including Tanzania, Uganda, Seychelles, Mauritius, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar among others.

KQ Network and Fleet

A proud member of the Sky Team alliance, Kenya Airways serves 3 domestic destinations and 42 international destinations in 36 countries with a fleet of 36 aircraft, however the carrier is implementing a turn-around plan that could see the fleet shrink to 27 aircraft.

The airline’s financial woes include a record loss for Kenya’s corporate history during the covid pandemic but only proving to be the continuation of a downward trend of loss-making spanning close to 10 years.

Turn-around plans

The airline is intent on halting its poor financial performance with plans to nationalize now dead in the water, its only hope is in executing a turn-around strategy.

CEO Alan Kilavuka remarked last year: “Kenya Airways has come up with short, medium, and long-term strategies to help in realizing two main objectives. The first is to survive the current depressed market, and the second is to implement strategies that will make the business more sustainable in the long term,”

Source: Airspace Africa

The Re-Reinvention of the Travel Agent

The Re-Reinvention of the Travel Agent

Travel agents, sometimes called advisors, have seen many changes through the years, but the pandemic altered their profession in unimaginable ways. And that upheaval’s not dying down anytime soon, with booking travel becoming more complicated and advisors seeing their roles as even more necessary.

Lynda Phillippi has ridden the ups and downs of travel many times during her 18-year career as a travel agent, and seen her profession go through just as many wrenching changes.

Then along came Covid. In a job that has been redefined countless times, through the rise of online travel booking sites, to mobile phones, to the collapse of storefront retail, Phillippi, an agent at Oregon-based agency Renaissance Travel, said the past two years have been like no others in how much her world has changed.

“What’s shifted the most (in) post-pandemic travel — if we are even there yet — is how much more time it takes to plan, book, and get a trip successfully completed,” said the 62-year-old Phillippi, who added she works the usual more than 40 hours a week, just in different ways. “We have to stay on top of destination requirements for vaccines and testing, and help clients arrange for those tests in many cases.”

When travelers started preparing to get back on the road after the pandemic halted their planned trips, many of them turned to travel agents, or advisors as some prefer to be called, for guidance — returning in many cases to professionals who had lost ground to travelers choosing to book trips themselves and online travel agencies a tremendous boost.

The emphasis here? On the advisor part of the job.

But the increased consumer traffic is far from the only change travel advisors have seen in their profession in recent years. The metamorphosis is just a fact of life. They are being asked to play different roles to help consumers navigate an environment still replete with travel restrictions and constantly changing Covid regulations. And now, as this summer has laid bare, travel chaos at all levels.

Travel advisors are adapting in a changing travel landscape by providing expertise on previously unfamiliar scenarios and engaging in a different kind of counseling to customers. Think part-crisis manager, part-shrink.

Phillippi offers this: “An example is a family heading to Italy for a cruise. They want to see Rome for a few days, but they need a recent test to board the ship. Fortunately the hotel concierges are a great resource to assist clients during their stay but it’s a conversation prior to booking to reassure the family that things will go smoothly — well, unless they don’t. One positive test in the group and the family doesn’t board the ship. Now what? What are the quarantine protocols? What’s the retesting process? Do they try to meet the ship somewhere or go to plan B and scramble to salvage their vacation? Some countries have opened up entirely while others still require various protocols, including masking.”

2021 poll by the American Society of Travel Advisors found 76 percent of advisors saw an increase in customers compared to prior to the pandemic while 81 percent said they were hearing from consumers who had never used an advisor. Justin Smith, the owner of Evolved Traveler, a member of agency consortium Ensemble Travel Group, appreciates the additional workload as well as the growing interest in advisors’ services. But he acknowledges they’re dealing with never-ending work.

“Advisors are fully aware that be it Covid flare-ups, airline issuesor the war in Ukraine, there is still a lot to stay on top of and be prepared for,” Smith said. “No one is ready to exhale yet. We are not even close to that.”

Smith expounded on why travel advisors haven’t been able to feel complacent despite the easing of travel restrictions worldwide.

“The pandemic has put the travel industry in a constant state of flux, whereas before 2020, there was a familiar flow to it,” he said.

“Even with the pandemic seemingly easing, things we took to be ‘givens’ in the travel industry are still off-the-table. Booking windows are much shorter, and advisors and consumers are utilizing what would have been considered shoulder and off-season to go-to destinations for a myriad of reasons. And plans B, C, and D are discussed at the outset.”

Changed Counseling Roles

A major reason why travel advisors believe they have to stay on top of their game is because they’re increasingly playing the role of a counselor. Counseling is not a new duty for advisors, as Steve Orens — president of California-based agency Plaza Travel — believes they were already pushed to assume a consultant role with clients due to the easy access consumers have to technology and the Internet.

But Erin Green, an advisor at Minnesota-based agency Pique Travel Design, describes the sort she’s doing now as trickier, especially when asked about which destinations are safe and other Covid-related issues.

“You know, if a client asks what happens if they test positive, we can kinda give them an answer of what might happen. But it’s not guaranteed,” Green said.

“It’s less of just where should I stay and what sort of experience should I have in this destination. And on top of those … What’s the best sort of test (to) take before I go. Do you know where I could find that? Do you think this trip will move forward in six months? So there’s definitely been another level that’s been added to our job.”

How can agencies prepare their advisors for the changed counseling duties? Green answered that her agency frequently addresses topics pertaining to global issues during their weekly staff meetings, instead of tech issues commonly discussed at such occasions in the past.

“We talk about the war in Ukraine and how to address client concerns about that,” she said.

“The owner of my agency often will write up a sample e-mail that (addresses) these major topics, like the uncertainty of the Coronavirus early on. If someone’s nervous about a Europe trip because of the war, we have a sample response that our agency has developed that we can sort of work off of. It’s just a lot of open communication and sharing between us and agencies globally.”

Otto de Vries, CEO of the Association of Southern African Travel Agents, also agrees that travel advisors are playing more of a counseling role. But he emphasizes the opportunity to drive business as why advisors should develop close relationships with customers.

“When you’re able to build those kinds of relationships with your customers, the value proposition and your ability to deliver on that customer expectation goes into a completely different space,” de Vries said.

But even before getting into a position where they can establish relationships with customers, advisors are spending more time determining what clients would be a good fit for their agencies. With travel agencies such as Green’s downsizing due to financial difficulties caused by the pandemic, some advisors are taking on fewer clients.

“Prior to the pandemic, we had a lot of support staff. We had a lot of projects and initiatives we were working on. And because of the pandemic, when we were sort of forced to downsize, it gave us the chance to focus and (we realized) we want to remain small,” Green said.

“We would rather have less clients, but clients who are a better fit. (And we would like to) focus on the customized, high-end activities that are the bread and butter of what we do.”

How can advisors determine which consumers might be good clients? Green said one step advisors at Pique Travel Design took during the pandemic was to create a document for prospective clients providing detailed information about the agency.

“So now before we take on a client or we get into the planning process, we really take our time to be sure they’ve read that document, they understand what we do, (and) the type of trips we do,” she said about the change in tactics partially inspired by the pandemic, adding that Pique Travel Design is unable to work with every traveler interested a booking a trip with the agency.

“(We have) to weed out clients that are not a great fit and focus in on more that are a great fit.”

Needed Marketing Expertise

But even if advisors are taking on fewer clients, de Vries doesn’t see the expectations for such professionals diminishing — a belief held by many in the industry. A survey by industry website TravelAge West found that 56 percent of advisors view customers are more demanding now than prior to the pandemic. Green acknowledged that consumers expect travel advisors to be prepared with a plan if something were to go wrong during a trip. But she admitted coming up with answers for such a scenario is difficult.

“We always share what we know, and we do have more general knowledge than the average consumer about testing, return times and certain pharmacies in Minneapolis,” Green said. “But it’s a tough expectation to meet.”

Those increased expectations are driving travel advisors to brand themselves as experts in their fields though, de Vries believes.

“And this requires some marketing expertise, whether that means building a personal brand on LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, or writing their own blogposts or newsletter,” he said.

“People buy from people and, as communities from whom we get trusted information have shrunk, there has never been a greater requirement for travel advisors to cement their personal brands through clever marketing and inspire their existing customers to refer to them.” 

Marketing themselves via social media is a skill many travel advisors struggle with. Forty-two percent of advisors only consider themselves somewhat knowledgeable on social media, according to a TravelAge West Survey.

Those advisors who can learn how to market themselves well on social media might experience success like Lainey Melnick, a franchise owner of luxury travel agency Dream Vacations. She credits an extensive social media strategy for keeping her business on track to reach sales of $1 million this year. Melnick invested her time and energy, during a pandemic-era slowdown in sales, into building five different Facebook accounts as well as those on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok.

“My posts are high up in the search engines because they are so consistent,” said Melnick, who also posts video promoting deals. “I do them all myself … It’s a face-to-face world—and I want it to be my face they see.”

The emphasis on building a personal brand marks a shift from advisors relying on their agency to position them favorably in the minds of prospective consumers, de Vries believes.

“Inspiring word of mouth was probably more organic in the past,” he said. “Now to stand out from the noise, you have to be very intentional about building your personal brand, understanding what your customer needs are and then intersecting that with what you do well.”

Going Solo as Independent Contractors

A reason why more travel advisors are devoting more resources to building brands is another pandemic-era shift de Vries has noticed — travel advisors are willing to branch out on their own and work as independent contractors. Stephanie Turner, the owner of Missouri-based agency Brentwood Travel, said the financial struggles many agencies are driving advisors to work as independent contractors instead of full-time employees. Sixty-two percent of U.S. travel advisors were either laid off or furloughed in 2020. 

“During the pandemic, we had to furlough a lot of people,” Turner said, adding she’s seen independent contractor companies willing to pay higher commissions to advisors. “And a lot of older staff wanted to be able to have their hours and work form home.”

But many of those advisors branching out on their own aren’t doing so without support, with more of them choosing to join host agencies since the start of the pandemic. De Vries sees that support as critical for advisors eager to leverage the relationships they’ve built with customers over the years.

“The network that provides them with technology, administrative support, (and) financial support from an accounting point of view. (It) certainly gives them access to good rates and product offerings.

Back to the Future

So what does the future look like for travel advisors? Although de Vries notes a push in South Africa in recent years to make travel bookings a completely online process, he sees a return to the pre-Internet era. He refers to the phenomenon as Back to the Future, with travelers increasingly eager for a human element in their dealings with travel advisors that technology cannot provide.

“Customers want a good old-fashioned travel agent that knows stuff …. and that I can pick up the phone (and) get the latest information (from),” de Vries said.

“They take the burden off me because I try to phone the airline — nobody answers. I email the airline — nobody answers. I try to contact the (online travel agency) — nobody answers.”   

Travel advisors are poised to have more interactions with consumers in years to come. Close to half of U.S. travelers who rarely or sometimes used travel advisors in the past have said they’re more likely to use one post-pandemic.

That potential boom in customers gives advisors like de Vries optimism for being able to build long-term loyal customers beyond the pandemic. Although he acknowledges that window is small, he sees an valuable opportunity for travel advisors.

“Those that leverage this opportunity have a real chance to develop meaningful, long-standing relationships that will also not only make them sustainable but will allow them to grow their businesses,” de Vries said. “Because nothing beats a reference.”

Oregon travel advisor Philippi is also eager to take advantage of that opportunity.

“Clients want desperately to travel and my job is to make that happen if at all possible,” she said. “It usually is, but there’s a lot more to it than there was before Covid. I’m finding reserves of patience I didn’t know existed.”

She then summed up that major shift.

“When I took a group to Morocco last November, I spent more time discussing insurance than I did talking about the destination. (Ninety percent) of the questions were those what-if questions. Formerly that was maybe a ten-minute conversation, but now it’s more like half an hour in many cases.”

Source: Skift