The rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic and the travel restrictions imposed worldwide as a result have triggered the return of an unprecedented number of holidaymakers and travelers since mid-March. After just over a month, the repatriation programs of various European governments and numerous tourism providers have almost been fully completed. All airlines in the Lufthansa Group have supported their respective governments by providing return flights.
Since 13 March 2020, Lufthansa Group airlines have repatriated around 90,000 holidaymakers and travelers. 437 special flights departed from 106 airports worldwide – from New Zealand all the way to Chile – all on their way Europe. Eleven more will follow in the coming days. The governments of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium in particular, but also tour operators and cruise lines have ordered these return flights from Air Dolomiti, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, Edelweiss, Eurowings, Lufthansa and SWISS. For now, Lufthansa’s last special flight is expected to arrive in Frankfurt at about 9 a.m. next Monday, 20 April, from Lima.
In addition, the Lufthansa Group has already operated 94 cargo special flights with relief supplies on board.
To date, Eurowings has also already operated 27 so-called “harvest helper flights” with around 2,500 passengers on board, with nine more are currently planned.
Lufthansa and Eurowings have been commissioned by the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin to fly more than 34,000 Germans and EU citizens back to Germany from their holiday homes and places of residence, some of which are very far away. Among the passengers was a girls’ choir from Hamburg, which was flown home from Baku (Azerbaijan). The return flights were planned, prepared and carried out as charters within only a few days. In some cases, passengers from the destination country were also on board the outward flight.
The challenge was more than carrying out an enormous number of individually planned special flights, which already exceeded the usual annual average for Lufthansa: Since around 40 airports were not regular Lufthansa Group destinations, additional personnel for handling, catering, and accommodation for cockpit and cabin crew, fuel and maintenance had to also be organized in a very short amount of time. The local embassies and diplomatic representations as well as the German Foreign Office also provided support, especially with regard to the necessary overflight and traffic rights.
Further challenges included local curfews, rapidly changing restrictions and partly already closed airports.