SkyEurope Airlines is in big trouble. They have followed a different strategy from the other regional low-cost carrier, Wizzair, when opting to focus their operations on only three cities: Vienna, Bratislava and Prague. Since last Friday, this has been reduced to only two: Bratislava and Prague.
Following a series of negative financial results in a number of years (actually SkyEurope has not made profits since it launched operations in 2002), and a lot of speculation about possible bankruptcy, the airline went into “creditor protection” – a similar state to the famous US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Earlier this summer, just a few days after they announced their protection while reorganizing, one of their planes was held up at Paris-Orly airport – due to unpaid duties at the airport. It was then communicated through the media that this had nothing to do with their bankruptcy protection and was an illegal move from the Paris Airport company. However, one of their 737s has been parked at Paris Orly for two months because a French court ordered that the airline not be allowed access to the aircraft until it pays debts owed in France… They also have stated several times during the summer of 2009 that they are paying all of their bills as required and while the reorganization takes place, passengers may count on an uninterrupted service. This was true until last Friday, when:
At the end of July they named the Austrian FOCUS Equity investor group as a partner with whom an agreement had been signed, reporting that FOCUS is willing to invest up to EUR 16.5m, its condition being the successful restructuring of the firm. Ever since this news, SkyEurope has been trying to resolve the problem with lack of cash for the restructuring process.
Just last week further bad news saw the light about the airline, when Vienna Airport announced early in the week, that it will suspend ground handling services for SkyEurope by Friday, unless its outstanding fees to Vienna International are settled by then. Most likely these fees totaling approximately EUR 4 million, have not been settled, as SkyEurope went into pro-active mode on Friday night (August 14, 2009), and simply moved all of its operations from Vienna to the close-by Bratislava airport, overnight. The airports are only 48 kms apart in the air (59 kms on the road), but the move could still lead to unhappy passengers due to delayed flights.
Even though the official announcement of SkyEurope included the word “TEMPORARILY”, it is not yet announced when the Vienna flights would depart and arrive actually in Vienna again. (The information page on their website gets updated everyday to push out the end date by one day…) This temporary measure runs “until an agreement can be reached to resume flights from Vienna.” All passengers scheduled to depart from Vienna on SkyEurope flights will be checked into their flight at Vienna airport as usual and then transferred by bus to nearby Bratislava airport for their flight departures. Passengers should arrive at the Vienna airport to check in at the normal time as they would for a Vienna departure. After check-in, passengers can board the buses in front of the departure area of Vienna Airport Terminal 2. Passengers on SkyEurope flights arriving in Bratislava rather than Vienna will be transferred by bus to Vienna airport. This will mean that the Vienna departure flights will leave Bratislava at least an hour late, and given the short turn-around time used at low-cost airlines, they will arrive back to Vienna at least an hour late. Then passengers will take the bus to Vienna, which could lead to almost a two hour delay in arrivals to the Vienna airport.
SkyEurope will give every affected passenger a free airfare voucher for a future SkyEurope flight. Vouchers will be sent to passengers via e-mail after their flights.
Undermining the “Temporarily” term in the press release about the move, SkyEurope.com has a large banner on the homepage, advertising a 40% sale for “Vienna” low fares - now departing from Bratislava – for the time period September-February (2010). As the banner suggests that these flights will now depart from Bratislava instead of Vienna – it gives the impression that this move is not temporary after all, but is planned for at least half a year – for the less busy winter time-period, for sure – but more probably for the undefined future. When clicking through the banner, you will see the following message:
“By moving our operations from Vienna to Bratislava Airport, you are now saving 40% on our lowest fares.
Booking period: Aug 18, 6pm – Aug 20, 12am.
Travel period: September 1 – February 22″
Not the banner, nor the conditions mention the word “temporarily”…
Looking at this banner also made me think, whether if the move was intended due to the lower handling costs avialable in Bratislava (which may have gotten even lower with the additional capacity bringing better negotiating power with the airport operator) and the Vienna Airport situation was only used as a media reason for the move? Just think about it. Which press release would give you a better impression of the airline:
A) “We are sorry, but due to lower operational costs, we will move our Vienna operations to Bratislava as our financial situation has worsened recently and this is one of the reorganization measures in order to keep SkyEurope in the air (for the time being).” or
B) “Vienna Airport has suspended servicing our flights due to some minor unsettled issues, but SkyEurope have managed to relocate all of those flights to nearby Bratislava – and we’ll take you there by bus for free, plus give you a free flight voucher”.
I think B) just proves to be better accepted by the flying public, and makes SkyEurope look like the champion of quick, problem-solving reaction and relocation!
Whatever the truth is, we hope SkyEurope succeeds in its reorganizational efforts, even though we have our doubts. A low-cost airline using only two basis airports is simply not destined for long-term survival, especially when it has been kicked out of two airports due to unsettled fees in recent months… Keeping our fingers crossed!