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Wednesday 6 April 2011

Winter Bluster

As I found out back in November 2009 while on an extended sojourn on the Algarve, the market for winter breaks is not what it used to be. And that extends into southern Spain as well, so the visitor count at Malaga and Alicante airports suffers along with that at Faro.

This means airlines serving these destinations have to either look elsewhere to fill their planes – and, for the package holiday crowd, that includes longer haul destinations – or taking some capacity out of their fleets for those few weeks before the winter sports season kicks off.

So far, so logical, but this week has seen another way in which this off season can be exploited: the twin sports of industrial bullying and corporate mardy strop throwing may be used to pass the time. And there is no company more skilled in both than our old friends at Ryanair, the Millwall of air carriers (everybody hates us and we don’t care).

Alicante airport has opened a new terminal. For many travellers this will be seen as A Good Thing, but not by Scrooge Of The Skies Michael O’Leary, who has called it “unnecessary”, which is at least a change from “bah humbug”. What O’Leary really dislikes, though, is that the new terminal uses airbridges. These are anathema to Ryanair, because, er, O’Leary says so.

He believes it will impact on timekeeping, and that is more important to him than providing a decent environment for his long suffering passengers. His argument is, roughly, that no airport should expand beyond a size where punters can walk between aircraft and terminal. Alicante airport is therefore bad to try so to do.

So Ryanair has very publicly told that it is taking nine of its eleven Alicante based aircraft away at the end of October 2011, closing many routes and reducing frequencies on others. This blatant act of bullying is then blamed on Alicante airport, who are accused of, er, bullying.

The fact of the matter is that Ryanair can’t get the loadings needed to make basing the planes at Alicante worthwhile. The increase in charges – which, as the airport points out [text in Castellano], is 32 cents per passenger at a site that is only charging around half of comparable UK airfields – could easily be absorbed by the carrier, or passed on to punters, the usual Ryanair preferred solution.

Ryanair will be back at Alicante next summer. If they don’t show up, then someone else will take their place. As I pointed out recently, this is just another paper tiger.

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