Charter airlines reduce seat capacity to Balearics for this summer season.

Palma airport found itself yesterday with an alarming 18.700 unwanted landing and take-off slots for this summer. In total 150.000 slots have been returned to the Spanish airport authority, the bulk of the unwanted slots being at Madrid, Barcelona and Palma airports. Under a new law passed last year, Spanish airport authority AENA can offer the unwanted slots to other markets and other airlines, but some airlines have returned 38 per cent of their allocated April to October slots. The total number of rejected slots represents an increase of 118 per cent of last summer season and the biggest rejections have come from the Balearics' main markets. The United Kingdom's big three tour operators have cancelled up to 30 per cent of their flight capacity for this season, that automatically translates in to a 30 per cent reduction in package holiday makers, whether demand for Balearics holidays in the UK picks up or not. Sources for the Association of Britain Travel Agents ABTA, and the International Federation of Tour Operators, IFTO, have confirmed that JMC (Thomas Cook) has cut its flight capacity to the Balearics this summer by 30 per cent. Thomson has cut back by 15 per cent and Airtours, 20 per cent. The main reason for the reductions in the charter flight programmes is the extremely slow Balearic package holiday market, in comparison to other destinations and the tour operators, understandably, want to minimalise their maximum losses. The reductions in flight capacity is the main reason why there are 1.5 million less package holidays in the UK market this year and that, once sold, not more will be put on the market because there will not be the flight capacity, although there may well be the hotel capacity. Germany's main tour operators are also expected to announce similar reductions in capacity on their charter flights to the Balearics, but are expected to wait until the ITB Berlin travel trade fair in March to unveil the cuts. The German reductions are not expected to be as sharp as in the UK because of the large holiday-home market, but considering both Thomas Cook and Thomson are German owned, uncertainty over the Balearic market this summer is likely to be shared. Despite ABTA's plea last week for the British to start booking their summer holidays early, once they know their dates and where they want to travel this summer, the market has failed to respond with most people waiting until the last minute to book. The Balearics have yet to start their promotional campaign in the UK and considering tour operators have already reduced flight capacity to the Balearics, the region may find itself in a no win situation.


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