TRAVELLERS wishing to fly to Europe can expect to pay exorbitant fares when airports re-open, aviation experts warn.Clearing a backlog of thousands of stranded passengers and accommodating those who had delayed travel plans would force airlines to do away with discounting, said the executive chairman of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, Peter Harbison.”The passengers who are stranded will be filling up seats for quite a while, and as a result if you want to buy a seat in the short term you will have to pay through the nose for it,” Mr Harbison said.On the British Airways website yesterday, an economy-class return ticket to London departing before the end of the month was $11,429.Singapore Airlines listed first-class return tickets from $15,518.10 and business-class fares from $11,032.50. Qantas had no flights listed for the next two weeks.Hopes that the disruption would soon ease were dashed yesterday with a new ash cloud heading back into key European airspace.The Icelandic volcano that has grounded aviation in Europe showed signs of renewed activity, delaying a decision to ease the no-fly bans.”The volcano eruption in Iceland has strengthened and a new ash cloud is spreading south and east towards the UK,” said NATS, the British air navigation provider. ”This demonstrates the dynamic and rapidly changing conditions in which we are working.”Mr Harbison said it was unusual for travellers to pay the full fare, which was typically about $4800 return economy to London. But they could now expect that to be standard.”Airlines will usually sell cheap seats three or four days before a flight but there will be no discount seats available. There won’t be the discount fares we’re used to getting and the ‘real fares’ from which everything is discounted are far higher than anyone dreams of paying.”A Flight Centre spokesman, Haydn Long, expected the steep prices to continue for up to three months. ”We’re already coming into a busy season for Europe travel and all the people who couldn’t travel will be travelling a little later in the season.”Mr Harbison said airlines might be tempted to raise prices but ”most of them are aware that a lot of their customers have long-term relationships so they don’t want to be seen to be too ugly”.
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