Major airlines are scrambling to add new transatlantic services now that tourist dependent countries like Croatia, Greece, Iceland and Italy are allowing visitors from the US and other nations for the first time in a year.
Delta Air Lines commenced service to Reykjavik, Iceland, from Boston on May 20. A week later it started again non-stop from Minneapolis to the Icelandic capital. Service from New York began on May 1st. United Airlines’ first service to Dubrovnik will begin on July 1st from its hub in Newark, New Jersey. The airline plans to add July-October flights to Athens from Washington-Dulles next month in addition to its Newark service, which began earlier this month.
Airlines are also stepping up their flight schedules to Spain, Portugal and Italy as these countries open up too. American Airlines, for example, increased service from Philadelphia to Athens through the second half of August and to Rome from both Philadelphia and Chicago in September – routes expected to resume next summer.
The European Union this week recommended adding the United States to a list of safe countries of origin, which could make it easier for US visitors to enter the 27-country bloc this summer. The EU has banned them since the pandemic began, and the change is fueling airlines’ efforts to avoid another lost European summer.
The rapid take-offs show that airlines are striving to grow revenue and contain pandemic losses, which combined for Delta, United and American totaled more than $ 32 billion.
Airlines generally like to launch new international destinations with fanfare several months and sometimes almost a year in advance. The long lead time gives the airline’s marketing departments time to arouse customer interest with campaigns that show pictures of sun-drenched cobblestone streets or sweeping views of the Adriatic Sea. There are also government affairs and airport teams time to get permits and contractors handling everything from check-in to wheelchair service to fuel on the ground long before the first flights take off.
That’s out of the window in times of the pandemic. Instead, airlines are waiting for the go-ahead from governments to lift travel restrictions to help rebuild international networks. Travelers have also waited longer to book because of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
It would normally take American about a year to launch a new international route like the new Miami to Tel Aviv, said Brian Znotins, vice president of network and flight planning for American Airlines. Hundreds of employees are involved in planning new routes, he said.
“These schedules have all been compressed. People didn’t book eight and twelve months in advance. You booked two to three months in advance, ”said Znotins. His team moves “at the speed of light”.
Patrick Quayle, United’s vice president of international network and alliances, said demand for Dubrovnik Croatia, a new market for United, was so high after the airline’s announcement that he called the airline’s vice president of global airport operations, David Kinzelman . with the request: “I would like to start a week earlier. Can you do that?”
“We load it relatively late and we post it in the hopes that people will book,” Quayle said. He said that demand for Croatia, Greece and Iceland “dwarfed” demand for Britain, which is usually its main transatlantic destination, “because these three countries were the first out of the gate”.
Domestic vacation bookings this summer are close to 2019 levels – with tariffs to match – but lucrative international trips typically still lag behind as many travel restrictions remain in place. That has forced US airlines to focus more on US destinations, where in some cases they have deployed their largest jets that would normally fly over the oceans.
United said its international capacity was 36% of total capacity as of July this year, down from 45% in 2019. And domestic flights are only a quarter lower than two years ago, while international capacity is twice as high.
But the demand for travel to Europe is increasing. Fare tracking app Hopper said on Friday that searches for European flights have almost doubled since then in the last month. Travel website Kayak said searches for European travel searches were down 11% compared to 2019 and that flight prices between the US and Europe averaged $ 929 in July, about 6% below fares two years ago.
Even though airlines offer more service to Europe, demand and service are still below 2019 levels as the US, despite requests from the airline and the trip, is still excluding most of the non-citizens who have either stayed in the European in the past two weeks Union or UK have resided industries to governments on both sides of the Atlantic. US citizens can visit the UK but still have to quarantine themselves.
But airlines are looking for all the flights they can take off, and their starting point is very low.
Passenger traffic between the US and the top 25 destination countries was down more than 90% in May from 2019, with numbers between the United States and Italy, the UK and Spain falling 95% or more, according to Airlines for America, an industry company group , which represents most of the major US airlines.
Covid travel restrictions have also posed challenges for airlines as they set up new flights with ground facilities and staff organized remotely.
Kinzelman, United’s Global Airports vice president, said it was before Dulles flights to Accra, Ghana were introduced earlier this year.
“We haven’t been able to get people who would normally arrive in advance to do a site survey and a station visit,” he said. “In many cases it’s just videos where we’d say: take your camera and let’s walk around the room. What will a customer experience look like? And it was super helpful. “
Kinzelman added that the airline would not want to do this indefinitely, but said “necessity is inventive”.