Alastair Dalton: Passengers hit by airline turbulence

To keep abreast of which airlines fly where and when from Scotland's airports, you'd need an app that would drive you crazy with its constant updates.
There is uncertainty over several of Norwegian's routes from Edinburgh. Picture: Ian GeorgesonThere is uncertainty over several of Norwegian's routes from Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson
There is uncertainty over several of Norwegian's routes from Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson

But you’d have to have a tracker because airline websites can be as opaque as their publicists in keeping passengers and airports informed of changes to their routes and flight frequencies.

On the up side, air travel from Scotland offers more possibilities than ever, but it has also become more volatile.

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The aviation industry has always presented a rosy outlook to its customers that’s all about new routes, extra flights and “bargain” fares.

It’s true the underlying trend is of growth, and Edinburgh Airport has benefitted especially, becoming in July the first in Scotland to handle 1.5 million passengers a month.

However, with growth comes turbulence, as airlines jump on the aerial bandwagon to add routes that turn out to be “thin” in popularity.

Further buffeting has come from two major uncertainties - Scottish ministers’ hopes to cut air taxes, and potential disruption from Brexit.

The Scottish Government’s plans to replace UK air passenger duty with its own air departure tax, of half the current rate before being eventually abolished, appear stalled.

There is not the opposition support required and the plan has also been mired by the need to get European Union approval for Inverness airport’s continued exemption.

Meanwhile, the Brexit situation is as fluid as every other announcement from the UK and EU. If you’re an optimist, flights will continue as normal, but the most pessimistic view is they would all be grounded.

However, many passengers won’t care for any of this - they just want to book their trips and holidays as cheaply as possible, which often means as far in advance as they can too.

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New direct flights have changed people’s lifestyles and they have come to depend on these, such as to reach second homes or commute to faraway jobs.

But airlines don’t seem to see it that way. They will bend over backwards to generate traffic on a new route with low initial fares, but don’t think there’s any commitment. Air routes can be here today, gone tomorrow - the plane takes off and it’s gone forever.

The latest examples which have been brought to my attention include budget airline Norwegian. It launched flights between Edinburgh and three small airports between New York and Boston last year, but by next month will have axed two, with a question mark hanging over the third.

Norwegian is busy enticing Scots to fly the remaining route, to Stewart in New York State, this winter with fare offers, but there’s still no flights showing on its website from next April onwards. Strange, when you can already book with rivals United and Delta to Newark and JFK.

Stranger is Norwegian’s Edinburgh-Oslo route, which appears to be being dropped in April, as only flights via Copenhagen and Stockholm are shown online.

The airline told me direct-route seats “will be out for sale shortly”. But it looks more like it’s hedging its bets. Passengers who have booked on the more expensive and longer connecting flights will be justifiably angry if that happens

However, perhaps fliers should trust Ryanair even less. After scrapping all but three of its 17 Glasgow routes this winter, at least four have popped back for next summer. The airline blamed the cuts on air taxes - but those have not changed. Passengers await an explanation.