Profiteering? It’s just supply and demand, say rail and ferry firms

| Apr. 17, 2010 |

Published by The Times [PDF]

Girish Gupta, Laura Dixon and Charlene Sweeney

Travel companies have denied profiteering from the volcanic dust cloud as stranded holidaymakers face paying premium fares to get home after the Easter break.

Channel ferry firms and Eurostar trains were fully booked this weekend as the Eyjafjallajökull volcano continued to pump ash into the atmosphere and aircraft were grounded across Northern Europe.

The budget airline Ryanair cancelled all its weekend flights. All scheduled services to and from Britain, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, northern France, northern Germany, Poland and the Baltic states were suspended until 1pm on Monday.

There are no restrictions in Scotland, Northern Ireland and in an area over the North Sea that includes the Shetlands and Orkney Isles.

The National Air Traffic Service said that Manchester, Liverpool and all airports north of them may be available early this morning for flights to and from the North and West. The ash cloud is expected to return over northern England at about 10am, when it is likely that restrictions will be reintroduced. Eurocontrol, the European air traffic control organisation, said that 60 per cent of flights were grounded yesterday and more than half of transatlantic flights cancelled. European air traffic controllers announced that they would meet on Monday to discuss the crisis.

As travellers sought alternatives, P&O Ferries reported a 40 per cent increase in bookings across the Channel. Prices for foot passengers increased from £60 for a return to more than £150 over the weekend.

A spokesman for the company denied increasing prices because of the crisis: “We just have so much demand, we’re having to staff up our ships to the maximum capacity so that we can take as many passengers as possible. We’ve not increased our prices above the normal levels whatsoever.”

The port of Dover said that some ferry operators had made arrangements during the night to take additional foot passengers.

Eurostar expected to sell every ticket for its weekend services. The £69 return tickets increased to £179 single. Lesley Retallack, a Eurostar spokeswoman, said: “We are absolutely not trying to take advantage of the situation. It’s quite simply the fact that the demand has taken our prices to the top of our existing fare structure.”

Network Rail announced that it was cancelling engineering work to enable services on the East and West Coast main lines and on routes to the Channel ports to be increased. But the cost of a single train ticket from London to five main cities was 33 per cent higher than those booked a week in advance, according to WhiteConcierge, which provides rail reservations.

Addison Lee, a minicab company, received requests for car journeys to Paris, Milan, Amsterdam and Zurich.

The first flights from Iceland for almost two days arrived at Glasgow last night with 600 passengers, including a group of schoolgirls from Loughborough High School, Leicestershire, who had been evacuated. Ellie Mangham, 14, said: “We were woken up by loads of banging and people speaking Icelandic. We didn’t understand them and we were really scared.”

Glasgow Airport said it would continue to handle internal, Irish and transatlantic flights until at least 1pm today.