Brexit Vote: IATA Warns 5 Million Air Travel Seats Could Be at Risk

British flag being cut by scissors from the European union flag
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A defeat in the UK’s Parliament for Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal has raised the odds of a “no deal” Brexit in March, multiple media outlets are reporting, and travel organizations are weighing in on the potential impact to the industry. 

The Brexit deal, which May had been negotiating with officials from the European Union (EU) over the past two years, was rejected by a 432 to 202 margin in a Parliament vote on Tuesday afternoon, CBS News reports – the biggest defeat for a sitting government in the UK's history. That means that May will have to present an alternate plan by Monday, or ask to delay the March 29 deadline for the UK leaving the EU. 

In a statement on the vote, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that, while most passengers’ flights will go ahead, uncertainty remains for both travelers and airlines regarding post-Brexit air connectivity. 

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“A ‘no deal’ Brexit could lead to a cap on flights that will stunt important economic opportunities and may lead to higher prices for consumers,” the organization wrote. “The proposed guidance from the EU Commission in the event of ‘no deal’ calls for the current level of flights between the UK and the EU to be maintained, but does not allow for an increase in flight numbers in 2019 compared to 2018.”

According to the IATA, up to 5 million extra seats are scheduled for 2019 compared to 2018 in order to meet rising consumer demand, many over the peak summer travel season, and these could be at risk if a “no deal” Brexit occurs. 

“That current flight levels will be protected even with a hard Brexit is an important assurance. But with two months left until Britain leaves the EU, airlines still do not know exactly what kind of Brexit they should be planning for,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO, in a written statement. “And there is legal and commercial uncertainty over how the Commission’s plan to cap flight numbers will work. In the small window remaining before Brexit it is imperative that the EU and UK prioritize finding a solution that brings certainty to airlines planning growth to meet demand and to travelers planning business trips and family holidays.”

In other travel impacts, the pound rose 0.05 percent in trading following the vote, after declines of more than 1 percent earlier in the day, the BBC reports. The currency had been down 7 percent in 2018 due to uncertainty regarding the Brexit deal, which translates into lower prices for U.S. travelers visiting the UK due to the more favorable exchange rate with the dollar. 

Looking ahead, the opposition Labour party has called for a no-confidence vote in May’s government, according to the BBC, although senior party officials have said that this vote is unlikely to succeed. That vote is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. GMT Wednesday, or 2:00 p.m. EST. 

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