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Transport / Loganair denies ‘intentionally overbooking’ flights

There have been ‘several instances’ when a larger plane has had to be substituted with a smaller one, airline chief explains

A Loganair Saab 340.

LOGANAIR says it “does not intentionally overbook flights” – with its chief executive explaining that operational issues relating to aircraft availability is the reason why some people have been unable to travel on their booked flights in recent months.

Jonathan Hinkles said the recent industrial action from air traffic controllers, which meant Sumburgh Airport could not operate beyond its scheduled opening hours, had escalated the issue.

That industrial action – undertaken in protest against plans to centralise air traffic control in Inverness – is now no longer in place as talks continue between Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) and the Prospect union.

With some disappointed passengers in recent months being told late on they cannot fly on their booked service, some people have alleged that the regional airline “overbooks” flights.

But in a letter to councillor Duncan Anderson on the matter, chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said while other airlines intentionally overbook flights – Loganair “stopped doing so around ten years ago and intend to keep it that way”.

He said issues have centred around larger aircraft having to be replaced by a smaller one late on – meaning there is not enough space for everyone booked on.

But Hinkles said it is no longer a “live” issue at this point in time.

Anderson had raised the matter with Loganair following complaints from constituents.

Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles. Photo: Shetland News

Hinkles wrote that “issues (of overbooking)” which reared their head a couple of months ago “have been a number of unrelated operational challenges which have been escalated into major disruption to our customers by the ongoing work-to-rule action by ATC staff at Sumburgh”.

“Loganair operates two ATR aircraft, the 70 seater ATR72 and the 48 seat ATR42.

“There have been several instances where the 70-seat aircraft has been scheduled to operate but was substituted by the 48 seat aircraft at the last minute.

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“This results when more than 48 seats have been sold, being unable to carry all booked customers,” the Loganair boss wrote.

“Under such circumstances, any customer unable to travel is entitled to compensation, but I appreciate and understand that is a poor substitute for being able to travel as planned and expected.”

He gave two examples – one on 15 October where delays outwith Loganair’s control at Manchester Airport, including an EasyJet plane blocking the taxiway, meant the Aberdeen-Sumburgh-Aberdeen service that the aircraft was due to operate was at risk.

The operations team took the decision to use a smaller standby plane instead to guarantee the aircraft could fly the route – albeit with a reduced number of passengers.

“In the event, a further delay with boarding of customers of reduced mobility at Aberdeen led to the ATR42 aircraft running to an incredibly tight time frame, and only thanks to the tremendous efforts of our crew and our ground staff at Sumburgh was it able to become airborne at 20:14:43 – 17 seconds before it would have been stuck for the night,” Hinkles explained.

There was another issue of lack of seats affecting flights on 20/21 October when departures at Aberdeen Airport were delayed due to an RAF aircraft making an emergency landing.

After a plane landed at Sumburgh for a return trip to Aberdeen, staff “rapidly boarded Sumburgh/Aberdeen passengers for the last flight south but were then denied start-up clearance by air traffic control at 20:11 on the basis that the airfield was closing at 20:15”.

The last flight of the night was therefore cancelled, and the 40 passengers, aircraft and crew were stuck in Sumburgh overnight.

“With the crew out of hours in Sumburgh and aircraft stuck, the 70-seat aircraft clearly could not undertake the next morning’s Aberdeen-Sumburgh-Aberdeen early roundtrip and we therefore had to substitute a replacement aircraft and crew to fly Thursday’s service,” Hinkles said.

“This resulted in some customers being unable to travel due to lack of seats.”

Hinkles said the overnight stay in Sumburgh caused further consequences relating to the crew’s roster and the ATR72’s maintenance schedule.

Meanwhile Loganair is to introduce a changed timetable for the first couple of months of 2022 due to reduced bookings.

This will include slightly less Aberdeen-Sumburgh flights.

Hinkles told a meeting of Shetland’s external transport forum on Wednesday that the pandemic continued to affect bookings – with the new Omicron variant having a part to play.

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