Coronavirus: Wizz Air plane lands in London in tentative return to commercial flights

A Wizz Air Airbus A320 from Sofia, Bulgaria lands at Luton Airport on May 1, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - Hungarian budget carrier Wizz Air flew into London's Luton airport from Sofia on Friday (May 1), becoming one of the first European airlines to restart routes during the coronavirus pandemic.

At least one person onboard seen through the window was wearing a face mask. There were also dozens of passengers within the airport, spaced out for social distancing, possibly for the return flight which took off shortly afterwards.

European airlines have grounded the majority of their fleets over the last six weeks as governments imposed travel restrictions to combat the spread of the virus.

But Wizz Air said last week it planned to put some of its planes back in the air for essential travel, restoring services to destinations in Romania, Budapest in Hungary, Lisbon in Portugal and Spain's Tenerife plus a few more.

The London Luton arrivals and departures board showed three Wizz Air flights were due to arrive and depart on Friday.

The airline says it is important to get the infrastructure operating and that there are people across Europe who need to travel for work.

A person familiar with the situation said the load factor on the flights operating on Friday was was generally above 50 per cent.

Across Europe, air traffic is down by about 90 per cent according to global body IATA, with the flights that are still operating facilitating the repatriation of citizens, travel by medical experts and cargo supplies.

Given ongoing travel restrictions - UK government advice for example is for Britons to avoid all non-essential global travel - Wizz has said that it does not expect flights to be full, enabling it to maintain social distancing onboard.

The airline, whose geographic focus is on central and eastern Europe, has said all passengers must wear masks on flights while its crew will wear masks and gloves.

When travel restrictions do start to ease, it is likely that there will be tougher measures for flying, which could affect demand. Britain is considering a two-week quarantine requirement for arrivals into the country.

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