Colombia: Air Crisis before Easter

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With the cessation of operations of Viva Air and the situation that Ultra Air is facing, travelers are thinking twice if it is safe to vacation on Easter.

El Dorado airport

Photo: Mr Tobi

LatinAmerican Post | David García Pedraza

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Leer en español: Colombia: crisis aérea previa a Semana Santa

Colombia's airline industry should have started on the right foot in 2023. Two low-cost airlines, Viva Air and Ultra Air, have had severe financial problems.Viva even ceased operations last February, leaving hundreds of thousands of users adrift, while Ultra tried to avoid going to that extreme due to a business that did not take place with a foreign airline. However, it announced its cessation of operations on March 30 and no date for a possible return.

With ten years of uninterrupted operations, Viva Air has been the pioneer low-cost airline in Colombia, for which many travelers regretted its end of operations. For its part, Ultra Air has barely been in operation for a year, so users consider it an economical alternative to travel. However, with the crises both companies face, it is expected that the economy, mainly tourism, can be affected by the lack of trust in response to the user at times like this.

The Post-Pandemic: A Relief for Airlines

2022 was a success for the recovery of the losses generated by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. More than 48 million people traveled by air last year, according to data from the Colombian Civil Aeronautics, which reflected an increase of more than 57% compared to 2021. Even so, the recovery was so incredible that it exceeded pre-pandemic figures for 2019, with an increase of more than 16% in passengers in the last year.

The tourist, hotel, and travel agency chains were also directly recovered since the biosecurity restrictions were eased. In some cases non-existent, despite the vital controls still being in force, especially in airports and closed spaces.

2023 was seen at the time as a year of complete recovery. However, with the rise of the dollar, in addition to the fall of one of the large airlines and the termination of another emerging one, there is speculation about the gains that national tourism may have, knowing that Easter, one of the busiest seasons important for the tourism sector, is approaching.

It may interest you: Viva Air: What will happen to travelers now that the Colombian government is in control?

To travel or Not to Travel?

So far, 43,000 travelers continue to be affected by the cessation of Viva Air operations, which initially means losses for the air sector. To this is added the increase in tickets of 23%, 15%, and 5% for destinations such as Medellín, Santa Marta, and Barranquilla, all operated from Bogotá through other airlines. For its part, Ultra Air has expressed that these increases occur essentially because Viva Air had a good portion of connections between primary and secondary cities. Therefore, given the few routes between other airlines, it is challenging to meet the demand.

Although a good part of the passengers affected by Viva Air has been relocated on Avianca, Latam, and Satena flights, the operators' actions have not been enough. Several are still trapped in the airports. In the case of Ultra, 5,000 travelers have had to be relocated to other flights because multiple planes were not optimal for providing adequate service. On the other hand, the other users affected by the cessation of operations must communicate via email to know the airline's protocol, as it was made known in a statement.

These affectations could put the national tourism sector in trouble again, adding the winter wave that, although it affects travelers on land more, can cause delays or cancellation of airline flights that continue to operate.

The Big Week: From Profits to Possible Losses

Easter 2022 recorded very motivating figures. According to the Redeban transaction company, airlines reached 375% more billing than in 2021, travel agencies more than 124%, and hotels more than 80%. This means that this week was of significant growth for the entire sector: aviation and tourism.

If the purchases made at Easter are compared, during 2022, there were almost 1.7 million of these. In 2021, 1.2 million, in 2020, less than half a million. And in 2019, nearly 900 thousand, which means that They exceeded pre-pandemic levels, a great consolation for this hard-hit sector.

Although Holy Week represents the most important date for the mobilization of travelers to tourist destinations (San Andrés, Amazonas, and Cancun, the most sought after) due to the rise in interest rates on credit cards, experts advise not to get into debt better to have the money that you have work. Even so, given the high cost of living that Colombia has faced since last year, saving has not been the priority among Colombians.

Many Colombians are expected to travel to various parts of the country since Thursday and Good Friday are holidays in this nation. However, with the economic situation, it is difficult for the number of travelers and purchases registered to be equaled or exceeded in 2022. Thus, Colombian society (the one that travels frequently) has two options: Have money to travel thanks to debt and be austere in their expenses or not travel.

Several web portals have made a list of alternative destinations to visit at Easter so that travelers do not spend a lot of money and thus invest in national tourism, a good measure for this economic and air crisis.

Both Viva and Ultra Air find themselves at a critical moment, not only because of their financial situation but also because to regain trust in their customers. Although it is known that thanks to these airlines, many people could see the sea and travel on a plane for the first time, these emotions do not exempt them from their responsibilities before the user, their workers, and the law.