Budapest, Hungary – After several weeks at a standstill due to the coronavirus crisis, flights from Budapest airport are set to slowly resume as Wizz Air leads the way to restart air connections in a controversial move.
Wizz Air re-starts flights from Budapest airport amid viral pandemic and lockdowns
The Budapest-based low-cost carrier recently announced that it would re-start more than a dozen flights from the Hungarian capital in May, while those from Debrecen could resume next month.
Wizz Air should therefore start operating direct flights between Budapest and 15 European cities: Athens, Berlin, Barcelona, Bazel, Dortmund, London (Gatwick and Luton), Madrid, Liverpool, Podgorica, Sarajevo, Stockholm, Targa Mures, Birmingham, Gothenburg and Eindhoven.
A few days ago, Wizz Air already said it was re-launching a dozen flights from its U.K. hub at London-Luton, including to Romania, Hungary and neighbouring Slovakia.
The budget airline ensured that it would take all the appropriate measures to guarantee the safety and well-being of its travelers and flight crews, while also asking travelers to respect all the sanitary and social-distancing guidelines before and during the flight.
According to local reports, Wizz Air could, depending on the demand and on the course of the pandemic in the coming weeks, increase the number of flights on a number of connections. The carrier said said in mid-April that it was operating at 3% capacity compared to a normal year.
Other airlines are reportedly considering resuming their flights from the Hungarian capital at the beginning of June. Traffic at Budapest Liszt Ferenc airport, which stood at more than 16 million passengers in 2019 and was one of the fastest-growing in Europe, fell by more than 99% due to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to industry insiders, Budapest Airport could have to wait years to reach its pre-crisis level.
Media exposure and financial profiteering?
Despite assuring that the flights are meant to help those in absolute need of travelling, critics have cast some doubt on Wizz Air’s true motives and criticized the budget carrier for undermining efforts to contain the Covid-19 outbreak.
“Hungary’s nationalist government has given Wizz Air ample publicity” for its role in the repatriation of Hungarian citizens stranded abroad, included in the U.S., and for using its fleet to bring protective medical equipment from China, Reuters noted, “featuring the airline in videos and media appearances and infusing it with patriotic appeal”.
But apart from its positive media exposure in the face of the pandemic, industry insiders have accused Wizz Air and other airlines of trying to profit from the current chaos, including by restarting flights to countries whose borders are still mostly, if not completely, shut down.
“It just seems like more and more booking traps are being set everywhere by airlines eager to make a buck quick”, writes Tamara Thiessen in Forbes, pointing out that airlines seem “to be enjoying seeing customers run around in circles on an endless cancellation-refund treadmill”.
Meanwhile, former BBC travel consultant Paul Charles called Wizz Air “possibly the most irresponsible airline in the sector right now”.