THE SKIES over Slovakia are to get a new family of metal birds. Beginning May 17 the range of airlines offering long-haul flights from Bratislava Airport with just one stopover will widen. From that date, the Polish national airline LOT will begin flying to its main hub, Warsaw, using a 46-seat, turbo-prop plane every day except Saturday. Later, they plan to use a jet aeroplane that will be faster and more comfortable.
“We had a big increase in passengers in the region,” Jolanta Grala-Bednárčik, head of LOT for Slovakia and the region, said as she explained why the company was returning to the region after a six-year break. “In the Czech Republic and in Slovakia, our sales increased by about 15 percent, in spite of the general market slump.”
Its return to M. R. Štefánik International Airport in Bratislava is also supported by the enhanced interest of Slovaks in LOT flights from Vienna, Krakow and Prague. According to calculations by the Polish airline, last year their interest increased by 40 percent when compared to 2008.
LOT left the Slovak market in September 2004 due to strong competition from the now-defunct SkyEurope Airlines on its route to Warsaw.
“Warsaw is not a destination for two air carriers,” Grala-Bednárčik told The Slovak Spectator. According to aviation analyst Vít Doležálek, LOT’s route from Bratislava to Warsaw could be secure if at least 20 people fly there for an onward connection to America.
LOT thinks that as many as 60 percent of the total number of passengers flying from Bratislava could be trans-Atlantic clients. Last year, the Polish air carrier transported almost 4 million passengers and about 2.4 million of them travelled to the US or Canada.
The Polish capital is a hub from which clients can fly to two airports in New York, to Chicago, or to Toronto in Canada. The Polish company says that passengers should wait no longer than two hours for a connecting flight in Warsaw.
Passengers will pay €142 for a roundtrip Bratislava-Warsaw flight, including airport fees, which is interesting, especially for business clients, says Lukáš Švaro from Pelikán.sk, an internet seller of flight tickets. “Prices of tickets are approximately the same as with other air carriers, so it will depend mainly on the marketing activities of the Polish company whether it will manage to attract clients,” Švaro told The Slovak Spectator.
LOT says that the price of a roundtrip ticket to the US should begin at €456 and to Canada, it will be €497. However, LOT’s internet booking system for the route from Warsaw currently states a price of €1,500. The Polish company will have a competitor in the form of ČSA Czech Airlines, which flies from Bratislava, Žilina and Košice to Prague.
Last year, about 200,000 people travelled by air between Slovakia and the Czech Republic; LOT would be pleased to have about 20,000 a year. ČSA terminated its own route from Prague to New York last year and now only operates this route in cooperation with Delta Airlines, a part of the SkyTeam alliance. A roundtrip ticket to New York through Prague for the end of June 2010 is priced at €1,500, the same as that offered by LOT.
Švaro expressed his conviction that the final share captured by LOT in the Slovak market will depend on its marketing activities. Currently, the Polish carrier ranks fifteenth in the number of tickets sold on the Pelikán.sk website. ČSA is among the first five.
LOT comes to Bratislava Airport with modest expectations. It hopes to fly 20,000 passengers on its line to Warsaw. Its demands from the airport were modest, also. Unlike several low-cost air carriers, LOT did not ask for any rebates or concessions from Bratislava Airport. However, it did not commit to transporting a certain number of passengers in its contract.
The cooperation of the Polish airline company with Bratislava Airport has another advantage, however. “We decided on a joint marketing campaign, as this is crucial for us. We do not have such wide possibilities for advertisement and promotion as the airport does. So its offer of a common marketing campaign was a big advantage for us,” Grala-Bednárčik told the Sme daily in an interview.
During the interview, Grala-Bednárčik did not rule out the possibility that LOT would also fly from Košice. She said everything is a matter of strategic planning. “These are long-term plans that depend on whether this route will be profitable,” she said.
LOT’s decision to head for Slovakia also revealed some new information about the privatisation process that was launched at the beginning of 2009 for the state-owned airline company.
She confirmed during the interview that one of the potential bidders for ownership of LOT is KLM/Air France. “We are striving for it to become a strategic partner, but not necessarily an investor or owner,” she stated in the interview.
She specified that the company has been negotiating with several airline companies and with financial groups. “[It is] hard to say whether in the end it will be one of the airlines or a financial group,” she commented. She said the Polish government has not intervened in a direct way in negotiations with any potential investor.
1. Feb 2010 at 0:00 | Adam Valček