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Airlines rush to fill a hole in the sky

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Just hours after officials at Prague Airport announced on Monday that they would suspend services to SkyEurope due to unpaid fees, the low-cost carrier announced it was filing for bankruptcy.

SkyEurope’s financial difficulties were apparent from its beginning seven years ago, Hospodářské noviny reported Wednesday. The low-cost carrier lost CZK 59 million last year alone. The troubles intensified in January when a leasing company confiscated one of its aircraft.

The collapse of the airline this week left thousands of passengers stranded. Other airlines immediately stepped up to fill the void. Czech Airlines (ČSA) and discount carriers Smart Wings, Easy Jet and Wizz Air began offering discounted one-way tickets.

ČSA and Wizz Air are offering replacement tickets to SkyEurope passengers with valid bookings for EUR 50 and EUR 30, respectively. “We heard from many callers who wanted to book a substitute ticket,” ČSA head of communications Hana Hejsková told Lidové noviny on Wednesday. “On an average day, our call centre processes about 500 such requests. Today, there were over 6,000.”

SkyEurope’s former competitors are planning to offer flights from Prague. SkyEurope made up about 5% of traffic at Ruzyně, Prague Airport spokeswoman Eva Krejčí told Bloomberg on Wednesday. Smart Wings wants to increase the number of its flights to Rome and Paris, Hospodářské noviny reported. Wizz Air wants to offer more flights and secure a third aircraft by June 2010, ČTK reported.

Coach operators anticipate tripled demand on international routes, Lidové noviny reported. Student Agency plans to offer more trips to all destinations once served by its coaches and by SkyEurope. Eurolines is offering one-way tickets to all its destinations for CZK 1,500 instead of the regular CZK 1,790–2,000.

Travel agencies and embassies are also helping SkyEurope clients return home, Hospodářské noviny wrote on Wednesday.

But not all travellers are so lucky. A number of SkyEurope’s former routes, such as Naples, are not served by airlines offering discounted deals. Passengers stranded there have no choice but to pay up high sums for new tickets. Flights to some popular destinations, including France, are overbooked for the coming week, Aktuálně.cz reported Wednesday.

The cancellation of flights could affect tens of thousands of Czech tourists, Tomio Okamura, spokesman for the Association of Czech Travel Agencies, told Aktuálně Tuesday.

SkyEurope’s media contact Ronald Schranz said that a “many passengers should get their money back” either from clients’ banks or through insurance from a partner retailer, Hospodářské noviny wrote Wednesday.

“So far we have registered about 200 such requests,” ČSOB spokesman Ivo Měštánek told Lidové noviny. “The bank is the facilitator of the transaction. So in case of complaints from a dissatisfied client, we are obliged to approach the other party with a request to redress it.”

Filling the gap
SkyEurope head Nick Manoudakis told the Slovak online daily that there was a slim chance for the airline to return.

Hospodářské noviny noted that SkyEurope’s most lucrative clientele were business travellers who appreciated the multiple daily flights for day-to-day business travel. It remains unclear whether they will pay ČSA’s substantially higher fares.

SkyEurope’s collapse has relieved pressure on its former competitors to keep prices low on certain routes. Cyrrus analyst Ondřej Moravanský told Aktuálně.cz Wednesday that tickets to such destination might now rise.

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