Students looking to return to study destinations in time for the spring semester may struggle to find flights as capacity remains low due to social distancing measures and cancellations.
With the aviation industry set to lose billions in the fallout of Covid-19, passenger numbers in regions like Africa and the Middle East are at just 30% of 2019 levels, while local policies that restrict entry for non-nationals or limit flights are further impacting the industry.
“We are expecting to see a large amount of demand for flight tickets after the New Year”
Introduced earlier this year, the Five-One policy was due to end in October but is likely to be extended. It restricts the amount of flights carriers can make between China and other destinations, and can suspend routes if Covid-19 cases are found among passengers.
“For each airline, there are two flights per week allowed between the UK and China. Since many students are taking online courses during the first term, we are expecting to see a large amount of demand for flight tickets after the New Year,” Xu continued.
“The availability is limited but we don’t see many cancellations at this stage compared to months ago. In terms of the price, it is far more expensive than normal times.”
Some universities have organised chartered flights for international students from major sending countries, including two charters from China to Belfast specifically for students attending Queen’s University operated by Qatar Airways.
A spokesperson for Qatar Airways told The PIE they had operated more than 400 charter flights across the world during Covid-19.
“In terms of schedules, clearly the global situation has had an impact on air travel but Qatar Airways has gradually reinstated suspended destinations in line with expected relaxation of entry restrictions around the world,” they said.
“By the end of 2020, Qatar Airways’ plans to rebuild its network to more than 125 destinations. Many cities will be served with a strong schedule with daily or more frequencies.”
Cheaper flights with multiple stopovers remain an option for students – for example, flights running between Beijing and London in January can be bought for a little over £200 – but customers are hesitant to purchase them due to the amount of risk being subject to the changing Covid-19 regulations of three or four countries would create.
However, for cancelled flights there are signs that even struggling airlines will be forced to pay up for refunds.
A passenger recently won a District Tribunal against Air New Zealand, while in Europe even Ryanair has created a new system for refund applications following customer complaints of not receiving their money.