Charlotte Foster

Travel Tips

Why major airlines are flying empty planes

Why major airlines are flying empty planes

In order to keep prized departure and landing times at major airports, some of Europe’s biggest airlines have been forced to fly empty planes. 

Europe’s second largest air carrier, Germany-based Lufthansa, reported they had operated over 18,000 “ghost flights” through winter, despite the devastating pollution effects of these flights directly opposing Europe’s climate goals. 

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg shared news of the “ghost flights” on twitter, adding, “The EU surely is in a climate emergency mode…”

Due to severely decreased demand for air travel, Lufthansa called for more short-term flexibility on airport time slots. 

“Without this crisis-related flexibility, airlines are forced to fly with planes almost empty, just to secure their slots,” it said. 

Still operating in a pre-pandemic mindset, the “use-it-or-lose-it” rule forces airlines to use at least 80% of their allocated slots to keep their flight times. 

These rules ensure major airlines are not able to hog valuable flying times, which boxes out smaller airlines from emerging.

News of the ghost flights has prompted Stefan De Keersmaecker, a senior spokesperson of the European Commission, to refute these claims online. 

Stefan cited data from Eurocontrol which reported the first weeks of traffic in 2022 was at 77% of pre-pandemic rates. 

“In addition to the lower slot use rates, companies may also request a ‘justified non-use exception’ – to not use a slot – if the route cannot be operated because of sanitary measures, e.g. when new variants emerge during the pandemic,” he shared on Twitter.

“EU rules therefore do not oblige airlines to fly or to keep empty planes in the air. Deciding to operate routes or not is a commercial decision by the airline company and not a result of EU rules.”

Image credits: Getty Images