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Singapore Airlines cuts 12,000 flights, as coronavirus impact outweighs SARS

Singapore Airlines has now cut more flights from its schedule than at the height of the 2003 SARS crisis, as coronavirus shows no signs of giving the airline industry an easy ride this year

SQ A350 at Gate (Eugene Sim SS)

Latest: Singapore Airlines has announced an almost complete grounding, cutting 96% of its capacity and operating only a handful of flights for a two-week period from 29th March to 11th April 2020.

Singapore Airlines has released details of the biggest ever cut to its flying programme in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, cutting half of the group’s total capacity by removing services completely from several cities, while leaving previous stalwart routes like London and Sydney with just a single daily flight each in April.

Here’s how the service reductions look by month for each of the group’s full-service airlines.

Cancelled Flights
(updated 22nd March 2020)
Singapore_Airlines SilkAir Total
SIA SilkAir
Mar 2020 2,992 1,572 4,564
Apr 2020 3,505 785 4,290
May 2020 2,041 531 2,572
Jun 2020 339 60 399
Total 8,877  2,948 11,825

Overall, Singapore Airlines had originally planned to operate around 31,000 flights during this four-month period, so the cancellation rate for the airline by flight volumes averages at 28.6%.

SilkAir had planned to fly 13,300 sectors, giving them a cancellation rate by flight volumes of 22.2%.

Service suspensions now also extend into June 2020, with a smaller number in July and August (not shown). Further cuts in April, May and June are likely to be announced later as the travel restrictions due to coronavirus show no sign of being lifted in the short term across many of the airline’s markets.

Latest: At the time of writing Singapore had just announced that further restrictions will be put in place, barring entry or transit of any visitors from 11.59pm on Monday 23rd March. We expect further flight cuts from SIA and SilkAir as a result.

Here’s how the service reductions look by month for each airline as a percentage of originally planned flights now cancelled.

Cancelled Flights
(updated 22nd March 2020)
Singapore_Airlines SilkAir Total
SIA SilkAir
Mar 2020 38.8% 44.8% 40.7%
Apr 2020 46.6% 24.4% 39.9%
May 2020 25.4% 15.9% 22.6%
Jun 2020 4.4% 1.9% 3.6%
Total 28.6% 22.2% 26.7%

Cancellations for Singapore Airlines peak in April, with practically half of all flights originally scheduled now not going ahead. For SilkAir it’s March that sees the greatest hit so far, also representing close to half of the carrier’s planned services.

Already May is showing a 23% drop in flights across the two airlines, a total likely to increase closer to the time as the scale of the pandemic’s affect on demand is continually assessed.

SIA cancellations by region

Singapore Airlines splits its cancellations list into six geographic regions. Here’s how the flight volume cancellations are spread across those areas during each month for the mainline carrier.

Singapore_Airlines Singapore Airlines Cancellations by region
(updated 22nd March 2020)
Region Mar ’20 Apr ’20 May ’20 Jun ’20 Total
USA 209 211 228 85 733
Europe 355 923 555 4 1,837
North Asia 1,132 1,040 666 240 3,078
Southeast Asia 664 278 236 0 1,178
South West Pacific 388 1,023 318 10 1,739
Africa and West Asia 244 30 38 0 312
Total 2,992 3,505 2,041 339 8,877

North Asia continues to see the largest share of cancellations, with most China flights cancelled and severe cuts to and from destinations like Hong Kong.

China services including Beijing and Shanghai flights are set to return to full schedules from 1st May at this stage, though that could slip further.

This latest update also reflects markedly increased cancellations on Europe flights, with SIA completely withdrawing from destinations like Paris, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf and Amsterdam in April, while retaining only a single daily London flight rather than the usual four per day.

The London service (SQ322/317) is downgauged to a Boeing 777-300ER in April, rather than the usual two Airbus A380s and two Boeing 777-300ERs on the route each day, a capacity reduction of 81%.

SQ 77W (Boeing)
A single Boeing 777-300ER service to and from London each day is an 81% capacity cut on SIA’s highest revenue route. (Photo: Boeing)

In Australia and New Zealand, services to Adelaide, Christchurch and Wellington are cut completely while Sydney, normally served five times per day, drops to a seven times weekly service, though some dates have no flights at all while others have two.

Brisbane loses almost all its routine flights, with four times daily service dropping to a four times weekly alternative, though those heading to or from the Queensland capital can be easily routed via Sydney or Melbourne.

Perth City Skyline (Gyorgy Bakos)
Perth is hit with a 74% capacity cut in April 2020. (Photo: Gyorgy Bakos)

Cuts to the four times daily Perth route in April 2020 are also severe, with 178 of the 240 originally planned flights now cancelled – a 74% drop in capacity.

SilkAir cancellations by region

Here’s how the SilkAir flight volume cancellations are spread across the four regions the airline flies to and from by month between now and May 2020.

SilkAir SilkAir Cancellations by region
(updated 22nd March 2020)
Region Mar ’20 Apr ’20 May ’20 Jun ’20 Total
North Asia 314 312 0 0 626
Southeast Asia 998 342 454 60 1,854
South West Pacific 64 113 41 0 218
West Asia 196 18 36 0 250
Total 1,572 785 531 60 2,948

As with SIA mainline operations, almost all of SilkAir’s China flights (North Asia) are reinstated from May, which may not happen.

Given the airline’s operational network, it’s not surprising to see Southeast Asia take the biggest hit here (63% of all cancellations, 85% of cuts when looking at May alone).

One of the more notable cuts for SilkAir flights is Phuket services in both March and May 2020, with 108 of the airline’s planned 266 flights (41%) in each of those two months cancelled.

What if your flight is affected?

If you’re booked on a flight which has been cancelled, Singapore Airlines will notify you and outline details for reaccommodating you on alternative flights.

If you booked through a travel agent, you should contact your agent directly for assistance (they are actually the ones who control your booking). If you booked directly with Singapore Airlines, you can contact the reservations team on +65 6223 8888.

There is also a COVID-19 related assistance form on the SIA website for you to submit your details and your contact information, to avoid the long wait times over the phone.

Pro Tip: Remember if you have already been sent details of your new flight arrangements and are happy with them, there is no need to call SIA. Your new flight details can be viewed on the ‘Manage Booking’ portal.

Singapore Airlines also has a dedicated and regularly updated page available outlining travel restrictions to and from Singapore, the current travel waiver policy and measures being taken to safeguard crew and passengers.

Scoot cuts

These service cancellations don’t include SIA’s budget subsidiary Scoot, which we revealed yesterday would be making an effective two-week stoppage of operations flying only 26 of 2,200 usual passenger flights between 22nd March and 5th April 2020.

Scoot 787 (Darren Koch)
Almost all of Scoot’s passenger flights are currently grounded. (Photo: Darren Koch)

Even after the temporary grounding during the week commencing 6th April 2020, Scoot’s proposed flying schedule is for just 170 of its usual 1,100 weekly flights, an 85% cut in flight volumes.

Summary

As the epicentre of coronavirus shifts squarely to Europe, with other Asia-Pacific nations including New Zealand and Australia implementing cautious travel restrictions, many more of Singapore Airlines’ core long-haul networks are adversely affected by the pandemic.

Cancellations for March 2020 alone now stand at 4,500 flights across the SIA and SilkAir networks, representing over 40% of planned services.

April 2020 is not faring much better, with practically half of all Singapore Airlines flights now axed.

SQ 787 2018 Y (Edward Russell)
Singapore Airlines is suffering from low load factors on many routes as a result of weak demand. (Photo: Edward Russell)

With Jetstar Asia and Scoot both pausing operations over the coming weeks as a result of near zero demand, and new restrictions on short-term visitors and transit passengers coming in force from 23rd March, we expect many more Singapore Airlines and SilkAir services to be temporarily chopped in April and May, over and above those already announced.

Singapore Airlines has split its full list of cancelled flights into six geographic regions, and you can see which services won’t be operating by route, date and flight number here (last updated 22nd March 2020, 7am SGT).

We’ll continue to update you with details of significant future cancellations from SIA and SilkAir as they are announced.

(Cover Photo: Eugene Sim / Shutterstock)

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