LOGANAIR’S senior management has agreed to a face-to-face meeting with those behind a 13,000-strong social media campaign calling for cheaper air fares to Scotland’s islands.
It comes as campaigners continue to unearth examples providing what they say is a stark illustration of the raw deal islanders are getting.
A return flight for the 297-mile journey from Sumburgh to Glasgow on Wednesday would have cost £448 – almost as much as the £472 return fare from Aberdeen to Bangkok in Thailand, a distance of some 5,891 miles.
Loganair is understood to have been taken aback by the strength of feeling in Shetland and other island groups about high airfares, with the campaign group having been deluged with hundreds of complaints about “extortionate” prices since Sunday.
The airline’s chief operating officer Phil Preston was unable to make a scheduled appearance at Shetland’s external transport forum on Wednesday for health reasons.
But chief executive Stewart Adams has written to Scott Preston, who started the Facebook group at the weekend, saying that the campaign “centres on a number of issues which we feel it would be helpful to address”.
Adams said the company wished to gain a “clearer understanding of your concerns, as well as to detail the facts around Loganair’s operations and our pricing policies”.
Scott Preston said he was “delighted” that Loganair had finally agreed to meet the group, along with some political representatives. It is expected to be held in Shetland shortly.
He is looking forward to a “full and frank” discussion about the concerns raised, adding the entire campaign was about fairness and that it was “only right to give Loganair the chance to put their side of things across”.
Preston said the campaign page had been “inundated with messages from people who have had to pay adult fares for their children, from students who have never found how to get a student fare or what discount they are entitled to, and from NHS travellers who have never been offered a discount that Loganair claims to offer”.
NHS Shetland alone spent £2.3 million on medical flights last year, and in total the three island health boards spent more than £7.1 million. Were the Air Discount Scheme (ADS) applied to NHS flights it would cumulatively save those health boards a seven-figure sum.
Preston added that there had been “a lot of horror stories” about folk being unable to afford to travel at short notice for the funeral of a family member.
“We’d like to see a sensible funeral booking system in place for immediate family members returning to or leaving from the islands. Many users have reported a half-full plane when travelling. We’d like to see Loganair sell unused seats to those attending funerals for the basic fare.”
Our Islands Our Future (OIOF), a joint movement between Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles councils, has backed the campaign, saying it is right for islanders to question why fares are so high.
Independent Highlands and Islands list MSP Jean Urquhart also added her name to a growing list of politicians backing the campaign.
“I love the fact that Scotland seems now to be finding a voice,” she said, “and, as it should be, the politicians are following the people. [It] seems a new confidence, political awareness and feeling that we can make a difference is showing itself in direct action.”
Urquhart added: “And I guess we have to say social media is making it all possible. Meantime, I guess we will all be knocking on Flybe/Loganair’s door.”
Others offering their support include Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael, SIC leader Gary Robinson, Highlands and Islands list MSPs David Stewart, Jamie MacGrigor and Rhoda Grant, and the local Labour party branch.
External transport forum chairman Michael Stout said Adams had asked him to relay a message that the company is “very aware of what’s been happening in the past few days”. He said Loganair is also planning to launch its own Facebook page to address some of the issues that have been raised.
On Wednesday the company said it would not be granting any media interviews until after the meeting with campaigners has taken place. Shetland News has been seeking an interview with Loganair management for the past month.