Flight prices between London, Paris and Brussels are soaring in the wake of last week’s Channel Tunnel fire which has cut the number of Eurostar train services by 40 per cent.
Eurostar held a dominant market share of passenger traffic between these cities and with the train firm now telling passengers to avoid travelling at busy times many have defected to the airlines.
But the airlines have cut capacity in recent years so there are fewer seats to go round. Even though carriers have begun adding extra seats (by using larger planes and by running extra flights) they cannot cope with demand. It means that prices have soared.
The situation is particularly acute on the London-Paris route where business people needing to travel at short notice are paying some £600 return for what is a 212 mile one-way hop across the Channel. This makes it probably the world’s highest air fare (in terms of pence per mile), and that is assuming they can book a flight in the first place.
When Business Traveller checked British Airways’ online flights from Heathrow to Paris at lunchtime today for a trip going out tomorrow (Thursday) with a return on Friday, only a few flights still had empty seats.
Even though we were prepared to pay the full Club Europe price of £618 return BA could only offer departures from Heathrow at 1405, 1445 or 1700. Returning from Paris CDG there were only departures available at 1220 or 1505. Even fewer options were available were we to pay the full economy fare of £556 return. No cheaper rates were offered.
Even budget airline Easyjet wasn’t inexpensive. Its cheapest rates from Luton for travel on the same dates came in at around £400 return.
Matters are a bit easier for London-Brussels but rates are still costlier than normal. Booking a day trip with BA to Brussels for next Monday would cost at least £534 for an economy class ticket.
Matters were slightly easier with VLM from London City whose cheapest return fare came in at £453. VLM says it is running an extra daily return flight to Brussels for the remainder of this week. It says it will monitor the situation closely, so the additional service could be operated again next week.
Certainly the situation affecting Eurostar’s services won’t be resolved anytime soon. Passengers could face weeks if not months of disruption. The train firm is offering refunds and ticket exchanges to affected passengers.
Not only have the number of Eurostar’s daily departures been cut to 12 a day in the case of Paris (normally up to 20 a day) and six a day for Brussels (normally 10 a day) but the schedules have been slowed by around 30 mins which makes the service a less attractive proposition.
A spokesperson for Eurostar says that its temporary schedules are likely to continue for the next few weeks. The train firm is currently restricted to using a single bore of the Tunnel (the other bore is currently closed in the aftermath of the fire). All the spokesperson could say was that “we hope that Eurotunnel [the Channel Tunnel operator] will give us more access as time goes on.”
But the last Channel Tunnel fire in 1996 closed one of the bores for six months because both the tunnel’s roof lining and power systems had to be rebuilt. This time round it’s not clear how extensive the damage is but at the very least the overhead wiring and safety systems in the affected section will have to be reconstructed and tested and that will take time.
Report by Alex McWhirter