Fearful of being stranded amid coronavirus lock-downs, thousands of tourists are rushing to European airports in a desperate bid to make it onto a flight home.
Passengers waited in long queues in the Canary Islands as airlines slashed the number of flights to Spain and surrounding islands due to the virus outbreak.
British carrier Jet2 halted all its flights to Spain and France over the weekend. In some cases, planes were turned around mid flight to return to the UK as news spread of the lockdowns being implemented at their intended destinations.
After Spain declared a state of emergency on Saturday, businesses in tourist hotspots have been shuttered. Bars, restaurants, nightclubs and cafes have all been ordered to close and residents told only to leave their homes for essential journeys like the purchasing of groceries or medicine. Police are on the street enforcing the new rules.
In Morocco, tourists have also been stranded after the kingdom announced strict border restrictions in response to the coronavirus, leaving travellers stuck at borders, ports and airports.
Morocco suspended air, sea and land links with European countries and Algeria on Friday, as well as taking measures to confine citizens to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Flights to and from Algeria, Spain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Italy were suspended "until further notice", according to the government.
Morocco is particularly popular with French travellers, and the cancellations have left the French government scrambling to try and get citizens home. France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced Saturday that Rabat had agreed to allow repatriation flights for French nationals. The first flights back to France took off earlier the same day, he said.
But that hasn’t eased concerns for some travellers. "We are hostages of Morocco because we have been told to organise ourselves with our airlines, but they cannot offer anything because there are no more planes,” one French tourist told reporters.
For travellers on the road, it’s also becoming increasingly difficult to cross European borders. German police officers have been instructed to implement checks at border crossings between Germany and Austria, Denmark, France Luxembourg and Switzerland.
And tens of thousands of foreign skiers are trying to get home after France’s lockdown efforts led to resorts across the French Alps to close over the weekend, effectively ending Europe’s ski season early.
Planes grounded and flights cancelled
The airline sector has been hit hard by the outbreak. Europe’s largest airline group, Lufthansa, has parked dozens of aircraft at Berlin and Frankfurt airports. In a statement to investors, the group, which also includes Swiss, Austrian and Brussels Airlines, said passenger numbers had collapsed.
“The spread of the coronavirus is having a major impact on global demand for air travel. This includes travel restrictions for passengers originating from the European Union imposed by the US authorities. Over the course of the last week, new bookings at the Group airlines were around 50 percent lower, compared to the same time last year. Furthermore, the airlines are recording a significant increase in the number of flight cancellations,” it said.
“Over the next few weeks, the flight schedule may be reduced further by up to 70 percent compared to the original plan.”
IAG, which owns British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling, is also facing “unprecedented” pressure as a result of the virus. “For April and May, the Group plans to reduce capacity by at least 75 per cent compared to the same period in 2019” they said.
In Scandinavia, the region's flag carrier SAS has halted most operations and temporarily laid off 10,000 workers, which equates to 90 percent of its total workforce. The company’s CEO said air travel to Sweden, Norway and Denmark “has more or less disappeared”.
Ryanair said it expects to slash its seat capacity by up to 80 percent in coming months and has not ruled out a full grounding of its fleet.