Repatriation flights: Behind the scenes


With concentrated teamwork, Eurowings organizes numerous return flights - how the hurdles in planning, control and implementation are mastered

Because of the current corona crisis, many holidaymakers are stranded abroad. Since 14 March, Lufthansa Group airlines have flown more than 58,000 holidaymakers back to their home countries of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium on some 300 special flights from around 65 airports on all five continents. Around 45 further flights are already in preparation. With over 100 flights, Eurowings alone has brought home around 20,000 passengers from holiday regions such as Palma de Mallorca, Morocco and Tenerife. Further Eurowings repatriation flights are already being planned for the coming days.

These rescue flights can be booked independently by individual travelers via the Eurowings website. Another part of the flights is carried out as charter flights. In this case, tourism companies or the German Foreign Office, when holidaymakers officially register there, commission the flights. Rescue flights can be well represented by Eurowings. In times of crisis, however, when a large number of such flights have to be organized, they represent a significantly higher effort that can only be mastered by cross-functional teams.

Depending on where, when and how many passengers need to be picked up, coordination within Eurowings is just as important as close cooperation with various ministries and governments. Special conditions or special permissions are often required for the execution of flights:

“For example, it may be that a flight connection can only be scheduled to take passengers from abroad back to Germany. The outbound flight from Germany must remain empty in several cases. If so, it is a ferry flight,” explains René Rybka, Head of Network at Eurowings. “Traffic rights sometimes even have to be negotiated at the highest levels of government.”

In various departments of Eurowings, colleagues work closely together under unfamiliar conditions to be able to carry out these repatriation flights. At Eurowings, colleagues from Network Planning, Sales, Revenue Management, Operations Control Center, Crew Control, Passenger Control Center, Flight Operations (cockpit and cabin), Ground Operations and Operations Support work together, sometimes around the clock, to plan, control and execute the rescue flights accordingly – and to be able to implement even challenging flights promptly thanks to the close cooperation.

Thomas Kleckler, who in his role as Deputy Head of the Operation Control Center at Eurowings is responsible for planning and controlling the rescue flights, praises the close, cross-departmental cooperation:

“I would like to express my sincere thanks to you all!  Thank you very much for proving once again that Eurowings can rely on your professionalism, flexibility and resilience in crises! Nobody knows how long this crisis will last and how long we will have to reduce our flight offerings in this way. I am sure: We are well prepared!”

As soon as such a rescue flight is requested by a tour operator, a cruise line or the Foreign Office, it must first be examined whether the flight can take place in principle. This decision depends largely on the conditions at the requested destinations, such as traffic rights and slots, entry and exit conditions, fuel availability or catering for passengers and crew. Depending on the number of passengers who want to fly back to Germany, the number of flight attendants whose deployment is handled by crew planning varies. The flight duty times of the crews must also be taken into account in the planning, as well as the legally prescribed rest periods at the destination. Flights are only carried out after consultation with the Security department of Eurowings.

Olessia Engelhardt, Senior Manager Network Development & Airport Relations at Eurowings, takes a look behind the scenes of her area of responsibility with regard to the rescue flights:

“Yesterday at 2.10 pm we received a call from the German Foreign Office asking if we could organize a flight from Agadir to Germany. Only two minutes later this request was passed on to the IOCC, which returned to the Foreign Office at 2.24 pm with a positive response including flight data – less than 15 minutes after the request was received! Shortly before 3 pm we received the confirmation of the flight order via the German Foreign Office and directly arranged for the crew and station colleagues in Agadir to be activated. The flight was immediately scheduled in the system and already at 15.32 pm the traffic rights were confirmed. Through this unprecedented collaboration, a flight was put in place in less than an hour and a half and we were able to allow 180 passengers to get home in time before Morocco closes its borders. The plane set off from Cologne/Bonn at 6.00 pm for Agadir, picked up the returnees on the spot, and landed safely again in Cologne/Bonn at 03.15 am.”

In times of the corona crisis, it goes without saying that the protection of the crew against infection, who demonstrate their extraordinary commitment to our guests day after day in these difficult times, is a priority and Eurowings implements a wide range of measures to protect the safety of crews and passengers. For example, the middle seat on flights from Germany is left free where possible to increase the physical distance on board. In addition, all Eurowings flights at domestic airports will only be positioned at building positions wherever this is possible due to the existing airport infrastructure and official regulations. This is intended to avoid bus trips by passengers. Where this is not possible at short notice, twice as many buses as usual have already been used for a few days. Eurowings had already taken numerous measures to increase the distance between passengers along the entire travel chain, for example at check-in or when boarding and disembarking. The service on board has also been adapted to take account of the “physical distance”. All aircraft are equipped with disinfectants and gloves for the crews.