News

Eurostar's woes spell costlier flights

16 Sep 2008 by Mark Caswell

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.

For more information visit ba.com, flybmi.com, flyvlm.com, airfrance.co.uk, easyjet.com, eurostar.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

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