5 Million Airline Tickets Might Be Canceled in No-Deal Brexit, Industry Group Says

Jan 21, 2019

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As many as 5 million airline tickets could be canceled in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to the aviation trade group International Air Transport Association (IATA).

In the event of a hard Brexit, the number of flights between the UK and the rest of Europe would be capped at 2018’s level, meaning that UK-based carriers could not add any new flights for 2019. That potentially means that UK airlines could not operate thousands of new flights they have scheduled for 2019 and would have to cancel them.

IATA’s research estimates that there up to 5 million extra seats on these new flights added by airlines to their 2019 schedules to meet consumer demand. “Many of these will be in the peak summer season when families will be booking holidays,” the group said in a recent statement. “These are at risk if a ‘no deal’ Brexit occurs.”

The group, which represents 290 airlines worldwide, said the majority of flights would likely be able to continue as scheduled, despite any deal (or lack thereof) that UK lawmakers make on Brexit.

“That current flight levels will be protected even with a hard Brexit is an important assurance,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said in the statement. “But with two months left until Britain leaves the EU, airlines still do not know exactly what kind of Brexit they should be planning for. And there is legal and commercial uncertainty over how the Commission’s plan to cap flight numbers will work. In the small window remaining before Brexit, it is imperative that the EU and UK prioritize finding a solution that brings certainty to airlines planning growth to meet demand and to travelers planning business trips and family holidays.”

In addition to ruining millions of travelers’ plans, the cap could even inflate remaining airfares, too, IATA said, noting there is “uncertainty for both travelers and airlines about post-Brexit air connectivity.”

Earlier in January, Dublin-based Ryanair established a specific UK-based airline, dubbed Ryanair UK, to ensure a legal path to continue operations in the UK should a no-deal Brexit happen. That move was approved by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority on Jan. 4.

Fellow UK carrier EasyJet took a similar approach, setting up a new company based in Vienna and locking in EU approval to continue to operate flights within Europe.

British Airways insists that it will not be affected by a no-deal Brexit. “BA will continue to fly all its customers to their destinations and operate a normal schedule, including to new routes,” an airline spokesperson told TPG in an email Monday.

The airline’s parent company, IAG, has reportedly been working with Spain’s government to ensure its operations will be able to continue after the looming official Brexit date, March 29, the Guardian reported. IAG also owns Iberia, Veuling, Aer Lingus and low-cost carrier Level. The group’s CEO, Willie Walsh, has publicly scoffed at insinuations that IAG would face negative Brexit consequences, arguing that the group has accounted for complex aviation regulations in the EU and beyond, according to the Guardian.

Ryanair’s CEO, Michael O’Leary, has said that IAG would not survive Brexit unless it made regulatory changes. TPG reached out to Ryanair for comment but did not receive a response by publication.

If you are planning to book a flight between the UK and Europe before Brexit on March 29, make sure to purchase the tickets with a credit card that offers trip protection, such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. These cards offer trip cancelation and delay protection, and can give a little peace of mind among all the Brexit unpredictability.

Flights between the US and UK should continue as usual post-Brexit under an “open skies” deal the two countries agreed upon in November.

Featured image by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

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