Carriers take the pain as unrest spreads

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Airlines are braced for a financial hit from the impact of the recent unrest in North Africa and the Middle East which has already toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt.

Egyptian flights were heavily impacted by the unrest, international carriers pulling or retiming services as a curfew on flights was introduced. UK budget carrier Jet2 suspended its Egyptian flights and redeployed capacity on Spanish and Portuguese flights. National carrier EgyptAir was forced to operate a reduced schedule.

Middle East giant Emirates, which has a strong presence in many of the affected markets, says it has seen a significant drop in its global business since the start of the unrest."The effect on the seat factor as a result of the unrest in the Arab world has been measureable the last six weeks," says president Tim Clark, running at 75% compared to a more typical low-80s for this time of year.

Emirates has already reduced capacity in several of the affected markets including Egypt and Tunisia. But Clark says it takes six weeks to two months to absorb what has happened, fully analyse the impact and reallocate capacity. "In April we'll be in good shape," he says.

Clark says Emirates carries a lot of Chinese tourists to the region and this traffic has ­completely "disappeared". He says business travel to the affected countries also has dried up.

European tour operator TUI Travel estimates unrest in the region will have a £25-30 million ($40-48 million) impact on its second quarter "Early indications are that customers are choosing to rebook to alternative destinations and we are taking action to remix our programmes in line with customer demand," explaines TUI chief executive Peter Long.