Airlines stats show huge losses during hurricanes


LONDON/PHILIPSBURG–OAG, the air travel intelligence company based in the United Kingdom, released data on Monday reflecting the impact Hurricanes Irma and Maria had on aviation in the Caribbean.

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  The data based on schedules that the airlines provided to OAG showed that in October the overall frequency of flights contracted by 6.7 per cent and seat capacity by 4.1 per cent. Seven of the top 10 destinations in terms of frequency recorded decreases ranging between 1.6 per cent in the Dominican Republic and 25.1 per cent in Puerto Rico. 

  Among the worst-hit destinations, the frequency of flights also decreased by 13.7 per cent in Dominica, St. Maarten by 12 per cent, the British Virgin Islands (BVI) by 11.2 per cent, Anguilla by 6.3 per cent and the US Virgin Islands by 5.6 per cent.

  Some destinations that were impacted minimally by the storms also experienced losses, with flights to St. Kitts and Nevis falling by 34.3 per cent, Montserrat by 21.5 per cent and the Turks and Caicos Islands by 8.1 per cent. 

  The capacity to all of these destinations was consequently adversely affected, with St. Maarten experiencing a near 50 per cent falloff and St. Kitts and Nevis and Montserrat having one-third fewer seats available than in the corresponding month.

  On the other hand, Cuba’s capacity grew by 10 per cent despite the changes to the schedule. The new services from the United States were a major influence on this performance.

  Among the regional-based airlines, Caribbean Airlines and LIAT are the largest suppliers of capacity to the region and both registered declines, with LIAT recording a 21.3 per cent fall and Caribbean Airlines down by 9.5 per cent.

  JetBlue’s increasing dominance among overseas carriers and its expansion in the region continued, as it recorded a 2.8 per cent rise in frequency and a corresponding 5.6 per cent growth in capacity.

  For American Airlines, the second largest supplier of service to the region, there were 10.6 per cent fewer flights and the available capacity declined by 8.5 per cent.

  However, it should be noted that the air capacity in the region for the first nine months of 2017 increased by approximately five per cent when compared to the same period of 2016. 

Major carriers

 Below is a list of airlines presently serving the Caribbean region that were impacted in the third quarter (Q3) of 2017 as a direct result of the damage caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September.

  It must be noted that some airlines were also impacted by Hurricane Harvey in the United States. Projections by these airlines and economists is that the impact will be seen in the fall in pre-tax revenue for the rest of 2017, as some destinations served will not be fully operational. The worst impacted destinations are Anguilla, Barbuda, The British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands.

  American Airlines (AA) reported losses of US $75 million in Q3 due to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. AA had to close 30 of the stations and had the most cancellations of any of the top six airlines serving the Caribbean. Eight thousand flights were cancelled due to bad weather, according to AA chairman and CEO Doug Parker.

  United Airlines reported $185 million in pre-tax losses for Q3. It closed its hub in Houston, Texas, for four days due to Hurricane Harvey. United did not report the total number of cancelled flights.

  Southwest Airlines reported a loss of $100 million in revenue and cancelled 5,000 flights due to Harvey and Irma, as well as the earthquakes in Mexico in September.

  Spirit Airlines reported losses of $40 million in revenue due to the three hurricanes. The carrier cancelled 1,650 flights. Note that during this time Spirit also had some pilot disputes.

  Delta Airlines reported losses of $120 million due to Hurricane Irma and the related cancellations and disruptions.

  JetBlue Airways reported losses of $44 million in revenue, having had to cancel 2,500 flights in Q3. The airline is predicting an overall loss of $70-90 million in Q4 as a result of the aftereffect of the hurricanes, according to president and CEO Robin Hayes.

  JetBlue has also redeployed capacity from Puerto Rico to other leisure destinations in its programme, and projects that by the end of 2018 it will return to the full Puerto Rico flight schedule. The airline has increased service to Florida and the Southern Caribbean.

  KLM Royal Dutch Airline did not reveal specific revenue losses and cancellations, KLM has advised that it resumed flights to Princess Juliana International Airport SXM in St Maarten as of October 29, with two flights a week, down from four flights a week pre- Hurricane Irma. These two flights now include stopovers in Curaçao.  KLM is also adding three extra flights a week to Curaçao’s already seven flights a week.

  LIAT reports that it expects to end 2017 with a loss of $13.25 million due to the hurricanes. It anticipates a $4.6 million loss between October and December 2017.  According to Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the chairman of LIAT’s shareholder governments, 408 flights were cancelled between June and September, compared to 67 for the same period last year.

  This was as a direct result of the closure of airports in Dominica, St. Maarten, the BVI and Puerto Rico. These markets account for 30 per cent of total LIAT flights and 34 per cent of total revenue. LIAT anticipates that it will take nine to 12 months for market recovery.

Visitor arrivals

  The available arrivals data from Caribbean destinations is limited at this time, as the October numbers are not yet in and only nine destinations have so far reported tourist arrival data for September. Therefore, it is still too early to provide accurate numbers.

  With several of the key cruise destinations, including Puerto Rico, St. Maarten and the US Virgin Islands, recovering from the impact of the hurricanes, cruise lines made changes to their itineraries to include alternative regional ports that remained open. These redeployments have benefited countries such as Curaçao, which registered a 138.3 per cent rise in cruise passenger arrivals in September, Jamaica (54.1 per cent), the Cayman Islands and Grenada.

Intention to travel

  Many destinations have been promoting that “the best way to help the Caribbean is to visit the Caribbean,” which seems to resonate with travellers. More recently, interviews were conducted with a few travel professionals and their sentiments are the same. Passengers booked on Caribbean cruises are looking forward to their holidays. Some are interested in seeing the devastation, but all are interested in helping out in various ways like making more purchases in local shops or taking shore excursions.


  Virtually all of the affected countries are reporting that they are open again for business, although not at full capacity, with every one of them planning some sort of event either later this year or early next year.

Source: The Daily Herald