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Locals and tourists competing for seats on crowded Outer Hebrides flights

Angus MacNeil.
Angus MacNeil.

A new battle of the skies has emerged between locals and tourists competing to obtain a seat on crowded planes.

Some services are said to be sold out weeks ahead, stranding residents.

Amid a growing tourists boom, the Scottish Government has now been asked to act over grounded islanders unable to get on Outer Hebrides’ flights.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil has written to Transport Minister Michael Matheson MSP asking him to bring changes to the booking system to address the capacity issues on isles’ air services.

It follows a similar action from Islands’ Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP who has indicated he will do the same for ferries – which have also been hit by a lack of space for locals.

Mr MacNeil has suggested the introduction of different time windows to the booking system of lifeline air and ferry services which would allow a percentage of seats/deckspace to be retained for booking within a shorter window of two to four weeks during peak times.

Mr Wheelhouse has already confirmed in a letter to Mr MacNeil that he will look at options for addressing shorter notice bookings on the ferries.

There is now only one day in June and four days in July when flights are available from Glasgow to Barra. Barra to Glasgow has minimal availability for the rest of June and August seats are also filling up fast in both directions.

Mr MacNeil said: “The response from Mr Matheson in a letter to me on May 15 regarding the lifeline Barra air service was that we are locked into this pattern of effectively no summer access at short notice for businesses, locals and the bereaved until 2023 because the contract has gone out to tender.

“This is not realistic for any island and the community of Barra is clearly going to be adversely affected if this continues.

“I am proposing a solution and I am pleased that Paul Wheelhouse has already stated in a letter to me that he will act on addressing the issue of access to ferries at short notice which is needed in Stornoway, Tarbert, Lochmaddy, Lochboisdale and Castlebay.

“We also need an active response on the air service, not a passive one, and I hope Mr Matheson will respond positively to this plan of action.

“If the train service between Edinburgh and Glasgow was booked up months in advance as the flight is from Barra to Glasgow, and as are some ferry services, I’m sure the Scottish Government would face strong calls to do something about it and would indeed respond.”

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