True Lithuania

Vilnius Airport closed down for a month-long renovation

2017 07 14. Vilnius airport has been closed down today for a month-long renovation of its sole runway. In theory, all flights have been moved to Kaunas, where a temporary terminal has been constructed. In practice, however, some airlines chose to cease flying to Lithuania altogether during the period, as Kaunas airport is more than 100 km away from Vilnius, Lithuania's capital.

The move to close down the Vilnius airport has been controversial from its start as it has been chosen over an alternative to perform the renovation works at night which would have allowed Vilnius airport to operate as scheduled on daytime when most of the flights arrive.

As summer is *the* tourist season in Lithuania, the renovation of the airport is expected to severely impact the income of tourist-related industries, and therefore the nationwide tax income.

Arrivals building at Vilnius airport

While the politicians who supported the closure often argued that 100 km is a short distance in the general context and it is a minor nuisance for passengers to fly to Kaunas instead of Vilnius, the reality proved different. The moving of the airport created many unforeseen inconveniences, such as, for example, a difficulty in booking flights to Vilnius and then back from Kaunas (if one's holidays begins before the reconstruction and ends during it). The booking systems of some airlines would not allow such a booking and would require booking tickets separately, almost doubling the price and reducing money-back guarantees in case the first flight is canceled. While the majority of Lithuanians know about the reconstruction, the majority of potential travelers don't, getting an unpleasant surprise of no available tickets to Vilnius during the renovation time when they would search for plane tickets to Vilnius.

Given this, many passengers likely decided against traveling to Lithuania during the time, and airlines had to cancel numerous flights due to lower-than-usual demand. The full impact of the reconstruction will be counted only after it ends. However, during June-July the numbers of True Lithuania online travel guide visitors have dropped by ~10% compared to the previous summer, likely demonstrating that fewer foreigners have been planning their holidays in Lithuania this summer.

Kaunas airport regular terminal as visible from departing airplane. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In 2016, Vilnius International Airport was the main airport of Lithuania, serving 3 814 000 passengers. Kaunas International Airport was the distant second Lithuanian airport, serving 740 000, mostly low-cost carriers aimed at Lithuanian emigrants and Lithuanian sun-seekers who fly to the southern resorts. While Vilnius has been constantly growing from 2009, Kaunas has actually declined from its peak in 2011 (830 268 passengers) as the low-cost carriers sought to relocate their business to the capital.

The Vilnius Airport is expected to reopen on the 19th of August.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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