The hospitality industry was witnessing a disaster of immense proportions and the decision to ban all inbound flights by Saturday meant the industry was at a complete standstill, Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association president Tony Zahra told Times of Malta.

“The industry has never seen a situation where there is literally zero income, not even in the worst of worst of times. We truly are witnessing a disaster of immense proportions and the industry will need all the help it can get from the government to overcome this situation,” Zahra said, noting that Malta was one of about 100 countries facing the same situation.

“Until the latest measure to close the airport there were still some tourists who visited Malta. This latest move means that there will be no more tourists on the island and, consequently, the industry comes to a complete standstill except for the few that are either on long stays or perhaps Maltese residents,” he said.

The decision to close the airport to incoming flights also means that Air Malta pilots and cabin crew will lose a substantial part of their income since a third of their salaries is linked to the flights they operate. The flight ban was announced through an official notice.

“Based on a decision made by the Malta health authorities, all passenger flights inbound to Malta are temporarily suspended,” the notice reads.

This was followed with an announcement by Air Malta suspending all commercial flights.

The stopping of flights comes after Malta last week banned travel to Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland and Spain. It also imposed a 14-day mandatory quarantine on arriving travellers from all countries.

People told to refrain from visiting the airport unless they are travelling

The ban does not apply to ferry flights, cargo flights, humanitarian and repatriation flights while the authorities retained the right to issue special exemptions on individual flights.

Sources close to the pilots and cabin crew said their unions were expected to meet Air Malta’s management this week. Malta International Airport described Saturday as a “dark day” for the aviation industry.

“Saturday will be a dark day for the local aviation industry and all stakeholders who have worked tirelessly to ensure the industry’s growth and success over the past years. Now, more than ever, it is crucial for us to work together with the government and all industry players to see the industry through these trying times,” the MIA’s CEO Alan Borg said.

The airport appealed to passengers who were planning on travelling in the coming days to contact their respective airlines for more information about their flights.

“As of March 21, the airport will remain operational to facilitate the arrival and departure of cargo, humanitarian and ferry flights until further notice,” MIA said.

It urged people to refrain from visiting the airport unless they were travelling in order to limit crowding and allow for social distancing to be observed.

Earlier this month, Borg said seven airlines had cancelled 278 flights. That number had increased since then.

“The Covid-19 outbreak is putting aviation and tourism stakeholders to the test as passenger demand for air travel plummets and airlines cut capacity across the board,” he said.

Times of Malta reported on Tuesday that Maltese in the UK were being urged to return home as soon as possible by the High Commission in London.

Most had returned by Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile, Air Malta said that customers affected by the ban had some options open.

Maltese nationals outside the country need to contact the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs Office. Residents can contact the airline on +356 2204 2200 or via e-mail on sitcen.mfea@gov.mt.

The ministry will be organising repatriation flights and Air Malta said on Thursday it will facilitate outbound travel for stranded individuals.

Non-Maltese nationals should contact their embassies to see about arrangements.

Customers who were to start their trip within the next 48 hours and have queries about their tickets can contact Air Malta’s call centre on +356 2599 1230. Customers who are not travelling within the next 48 hours and all the other passengers who require refunds can send an e-mail to refundrequest@airmalta.com.

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