Tuesday Briefing: Fire Forces Tennessee Tourist Towns to Evacuate, a Move Toward Free Air Travel

Photo by Jessica Tezak/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP

Today in the travel industry, a wildfire has forced the evacuation of two major Tennessee tourist towns, the head of a low-cost airline has floated the idea of free air travel, and the Lufthansa strike is underway. Here’s what you need to know. 

Wildfire Hits Gatlinburg, TN

Two popular Tennessee tourist towns on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, were hit by a wildfire this morning, forcing evacuations throughout Sevier County, The Washington Post reports. While as yet there are no reports of fatalities, four people did suffer severe burns, and property damage has been widespread. 

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) told the Post that Westgate Resorts, which spans more than 100 buildings, is “likely entirely gone,” that Black Bear Falls has probably lost all of its cabins, and that Ober Gatlinburg has reportedly been destroyed. The fire has also engulfed the 300-room Park Vista hotel in downtown Gatlinburg. 

The Dollywood theme park, which is about one mile from Pigeon Forge, has not sustained any damage thus far, park officials told the Post in a Monday night statement. 50 rooms in its DreamMore Resort and 19 of its cabins have been evacuated as firefighters work to protect the park from a fire burning on the adjacent Upper Middle Ridge

The southeastern United States has been battling forest fires for the past few weeks, the Post reports, and is in the middle of one of its worst droughts on record. 

Ryanair: A No-Cost Airline?

In air travel news, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary mentioned an interesting idea during a presentation at the Airport Operators Association conference, The Guardian reports: making airfare free, with the airline making up the money through a share of passenger shopping and retail revenues at airports. 

“I have this vision that in the next five to 10 years fares on Ryanair will be free; in which case the flights will be full, and we will be making our money out of sharing the airport revenues of all the people who will be running through airports, and getting a share of the shopping and the retail revenues,” O’Leary said during his speech. 

The Guardian notes that at Stanstead, Ryanair’s biggest UK airport, as passenger numbers have risen following the signing of a 10-year deal with the low-cost airline, the airport’s income from aeronautical charges has fallen from £148m in 2015 to £141m in 2016 — suggesting that additional passengers passing through the airport already do not cost the airline more in airport fees. Exact details of the deal are not publicly available.

“Our overall charges reflect the money we make in retail and parking: inherently, there is already discount or cross-subsidy there for airlines,” Nick Dunn, Gatwick’s CFO, told The Guardian. Additionally, ancillary revenues — the money Ryanair generates from miscellaneous charges for seat selection and other items in addition to airfare — already generate €1bn in revenue in addition to the airline’s €3.2bn fare revenue, which also includes an undisclosed amount of revenue from pre-booking bags. 

Strike at Chicago O’Hare

Approximately 500 workers at Chicago O’Hare International Airport are expected to go on strike today, the Associated Press reports via ABC News. The strike, which includes janitors, cabin cleaners, janitors, wheelchair attendants and baggage handlers, could create flight delays and disruptions at the airport, particularly for United and American airlines. Chicago Department of Aviation officials, however, say they that probably won’t happen. 

The strike is part of a nationwide campaign for an hourly wage of $15, the AP reports. 

The workers had initially floated the idea of staging the strike over the busy Thanksgiving travel period, but eventually voted to strike today. 

Lufthansa Strike Kicks Off

Finally, as a reminder, Lufthansa pilots represented by the Vereinigung Cockpit (VC) union are set to strike today in an action that is slated to last through Wednesday. A special strike schedule is in effect for today and tomorrow, and travelers are encouraged to check the status of their flight before leaving for the airport on LH.com

The strike will affect all short-haul services from Germany on Tuesday and short-, medium- and long-haul services from Germany on Wednesday, Lufthansa Group (LHG) said. On Tuesday, LHG plans to operate 2,184 of its 3,000 scheduled flights, and 2,110 flights on Wednesday. The extended strike will cancel 816 short-haul flights Tuesday and 890 flights Wednesday. In total, over 525,000 passengers will be affected by the last six days of strike action since last Wednesday through a total of 4,461 flight cancellations, LHG said. 

Other LHG airlines, including Eurowings, Germanwings, SWISS, Austrian Airlines, Air Dolomiti and Brussels Airlines, are not affected by the strike, and flights to and from Germany provided by other LHG airlines will operate as scheduled. 

Customers whose flight is cancelled through the strike action may rebook (once) or cancel their flight free of charge, LHG said. Customers also have the one-time option of rebooking free of charge if they hold a ticket for a flight with Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, SWISS or Brussels Airlines from, to or via Germany on one of the days affected by the strike. For routes within Germany, flight tickets may also be exchanged for Deutsche Bahn rail travel vouchers. Customers can find additional information under “Current Travel Information” on LH.com.

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