National carrier SriLankan Airlines (SLA) is operating seven extra flights to European destinations to serve the thousands of stranded and waiting passengers affected by the airport crisis in Europe.
More than 3,500 passengers waiting to fly home are stranded in and around Colombo, while some 3,000 to 4,000 tourists in Europe are waiting for flights to Sri Lanka, according to travel industry sources.
SriLankan Airlines had to cancel 14 flights to Europe between April 16 and 22.
Flights into and out of Colombo are now more or less back to normal. Outside of the impact on flights and business at the Katunayake airport, the country has suffered no major economic loss as a result of travel restrictions enforced across Europe this week.
The seven extra flights began on Friday and will continue until Wednesday. SriLankan Airlines chief executive officer Manoj Gunawardena told the Sunday Times that more flights would be introduced if necessary, adding that SLA had enough aircraft to increase the frequency of flights. He would not comment on losses incurred, except to say that SLA was “still counting.” SriLankan is the only airline to fly directly from Sri Lanka to European cities.
Airline industry analysts, however, say the cost of the crisis would be felt not only by airlines but also businesses associated with travel and the tourism industry. “The airports are losing tens of thousands of dollars a day from passenger fees, airport taxes, and landing fees, while duty-free shops and other airport services are also affected,” a tourism industry official said.
Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) has not yet totaled up its losses, said a BIA official. Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau managing director Dileep Mudadeniya said some 3,000 to 4,000 tourists have been prevented from coming to Sri Lanka because of the European airport situation. He said he hoped the crisis would not markedly affect the tourism statistics for April 2010, adding that those who were unable to come for a holiday on this occasion would visit later.
Mr. Mudadeniya said tour operators were not covering the extra costs incurred by stranded passengers, as this was an unprecedented crisis. But hotels were considering the plight of cash-strapped tourists and offering discount rates. “The hotels have been most helpful,” he said. “Most of the tourists are concentrated in the Negombo area.”
In a circular sent earlier this week, Srilal Miththapala, president of the Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), said tour operators and travel agents working with the Hotels Association should “show solidarity” with the stranded tourists. THASL-associated operators and agents were being encouraged to pay the stranded tourists the contracted hotel rates offered to tourists stranded elsewhere.
Mr. Miththapala, who himself was stranded in London as a result of the crisis, returned to Colombo after catching the noon SLA flight out of Heathrow Airport in London on Wednesday, April 21. He said that when he went to Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest airports, he found it empty. News that flights had resumed had not yet gotten around.
Cinnamon Grand, the five-star Colombo hotel, has had a limited number of guests in the past week. Most of them are from the UK. The hotel’s rooms division director Terence Fernando said guests forced to stay on because of flight cancellations were paying their own bills.
“Usually the airline picks up the tab if flights are delayed, but in this case the client has to pay for the extended stay,” he said. The minimum rate for a standard room in a Colombo hotel is US$75, plus taxes.