Consumer poll backs return of airport ‘use it or lose it’ slot rules

Gatwick and Wizz Air are calling for the UK’s airport ‘use it or lose it’ slot rules to be reinstated for next summer following a suspension due to the pandemic, citing consumer support.

More than half (56%) of people surveyed who are planning to fly in the next 12 months are concerned about air fares increasing if airport slot rules remain the same, according to a YouGov survey commissioned by the two companies.

More than a quarter (28%) of the 2,099 respondents also said they are concerned about a cut in the number of destinations they can choose to fly to.

A further quarter (24%) are worried about a reduction in the number of airlines they can fly with if airport slot rules remain the same.

The government is consulting on the slot rules for summer 2022, with the airport saying unused slots should be handed back or traded so that other airlines can fly them instead, including new market entrants such as Wizz Air.

A coalition of UK airports and Wizz Air earlier this month called for the urgent reinstatement of the previous 80/20 ‘use it or use it’ slot regulations – where airlines must use their assigned slots 80% of the time, or risk losing them – for summer 2022 season in a letter to transport secretary Grant  Shapps.

The letter pointed out that the issue has been raised with the with competition watchdog the CMA and pointed out that relevant authorities in other markets have all reinstated some discipline in their slot regulations.

This  has not led to ‘ghost flights –  those carrying no or few passengers - but has supported the restoration of connectivity to the benefits of passengers and businesses.

In a joint statement both Gatwick and Wizz Air said they recognise that the pandemic is not over and that borders will be restricted as they have been in response to the Omicron variant.

“However, provisions under the existing 80/20 slot competition safeguarding regulations are adequate and provide enough targeted and proportionate protection for airlines in situations like these, under Force Majeure, the 80/20 rule would be suspended when genuine restrictions, such as closed borders or substantive quarantine periods are in place,” they added.

Gatwick chief commercial officer Jonathan Pollard said: “It’s interesting that passengers support our view that the existing airport slot rules need to change.

“Consumers seem to recognise that the slot rules help maximise competition by keeping air fares low while increasing their choice of destinations and airline.

“Restoring the slot rules would be a clear signal that the UK government is getting fully behind the recovery of the UK aviation sector.

“A decision on the summer 2022 slot rules before Christmas would allow the industry to start planning resources for a smooth ramp up of operations as the industry looks to recover from the most difficult period in its history.”

Wizz Air UK managing director Marion Geoffroy said: Passengers are clearly concerned that air fares will increase if airport slot allocation rules remain the same.

“The government has an opportunity to do right by passengers now and reinstate the 80/20 ‘use it or lose it’ rules in time for the summer 2022 season, which will be so crucial to the UK aviation industry’s recovery.”

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