Aer Lingus’ decision to cancel flights between Shannon and Boston between March 29 and April 8, is not going down well in the county.
In particular, reports that the Shannon service is being temporarily sacrificed to free up an aircraft to operate a Dublin-US service have not been met with a warm welcome in the Mid West.
In a statement, the airline said the flight on April 2 is not affected but other services will not operate. “We are currently communicating directly with customers impacted by the cancellations. We have made a number of alternative travel options available to impacted customers, including alternative routings or alternative dates of travel. We sincerely regret the inconvenience caused and are doing all possible to minimise the disruption to customer’s travel plans”.
Asked if facilitating Dublin services was in fact the reason for the Shannon cancellation, an Aer Lingus spokesperson said, “We have less long-haul aircraft available than are required to meet our operational needs in the period between March 29 and April 8.
“This issue unfortunately means that we are required to cancel a number of flights. In order to ensure that the smallest number of customers are impacted by the cancellations, we have selected the flights with the lowest level of bookings on the days in question,” they continued.
The airline’s move was met with criticism from Clare TD Timmy Dooley. “It has been reported that Aer Lingus is cutting back on the Shannon-Boston service due to a shortage of aircraft to operate flights from Dublin. This clearly demonstrates that Aer Lingus has more of an interest in developing its operations in Dublin over Shannon Airport. This comes at a time when the Government is considering disposing of Aer Lingus, a vital State asset, through the IAG takeover bid. Aer Lingus have told us that Shannon would be placed on an even par with Dublin following a successful takeover bid. However, this latest development clearly shows what will happen in practice.
“I am calling on Aer Lingus to take into account the impact that this service disruption will have on the hospitality sector in the West of Ireland and to reconsider the decision. We cannot have a situation arise where Aer Lingus thinks it is acceptable to cut services at Shannon to supplement shortages in Dublin.”
He claimed there will be implications for local tourism interests.
“Easter is traditionally a busy time of year for the hospitality sector and this service cutback will undoubtedly lead to a loss of business in the region. The disruption caused to tourists will also damage the image of Shannon and the West of Ireland for years to come. American tourists have already purchased tickets to travel to Shannon over Easter and now they face the prospect of having to either rearrange their plans or perhaps cancel their trip entirely.”
Fine Gael TD Pat Breen also hit out at Aer Lingus. “If these reports are true, then it is unbelievable that Aer Lingus would suspend their Shannon service in order to use the Boeing 757-200 aircraft which normally operates on this route to accommodate their Dublin passengers.
“This decision flies in the face of commitments given to Shannon Airport and this region to expand their transatlantic services by the then CEO of the airline, Christoph Mueller, at the time of the launch of this Boston service back in February 2014.”
He also called for the flights between Dublin and Boston to stop in Shannon during the period of the stoppage. “Historically, the Aer Lingus Boston route operated Dublin-Shannon-Boston on the outward leg and Boston-Shannon-Dublin on the return leg. I see no reason why it could not operate this cycle during this period. Any disruption for the airline’s Dublin departing passengers could be kept to a minimum, particularly given the availability of US pre-clearance facilities at both airports.”
He said the move is significant in the context of the proposed IAG takeover. “If the Mid West Region is to have any confidence in Aer Lingus commitments going forward, particularly in the context of any IAG takeover, then it is imperative that they review this decision.”
Deputy Michael McNamara called into question the veracity of the assurances that Aer Lingus was offering regarding Shannon’s future following an IAG takeover.
“This is indicative of the attitude Aer Lingus has to Shannon and it is concerning. Will Dublin continue to be promoted at the expense of Shannon?” asked the Labour deputy.
“Aer Lingus CEO Stephen Kavanagh said, only recently, when asked about the airline’s commitment to Shannon, that Aer Lingus would satisfy the demand at Shannon because if they didn’t, they feared someone else would,” he noted.
“This development calls the veracity of that assurance into question. Aer Lingus really needs to show its full commitment to Shannon because I would be worried that this attitude would continue to Shannon’s detriment after any takeover by IAG,” Deputy McNamara added.