Airlines are planning for a modest pullback in January and February after a strong holiday season. PHOTO: AFP
NEW YORK (AFP) – Airline reservations to the United States (US) took off immediately after the White House announced the country would re-open to all vaccinated international voyagers starting next week, compelling a welcome – if challenging – industry pivot.
The long-awaited US move to welcome back international travellers – which takes effect today – follows 18 months of restrictions for 33 countries during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic that separated families, impeded business travel and frustrated tourists.
Big carriers including Air France, United Airlines and Singapore Airlines are scrambling to meet the sudden surge in demand, adding flights, swapping in bigger planes for smaller ones and redoubling efforts to hire and retain staff.
Just after the White House announcement, British Airways saw a 900 per cent jump in searches for flights and holiday packages to key US destinations compared with the week before.
The day after the announcement, American Airlines garnered a 66 per cent jump in flight reservations to Britain, 40 per cent to Europe and 74 per cent to Brazil.
Competition for seats on November 8 itself was especially intense, as Evelyne and Jean-Michel Desobeau discovered when they booked a trip using frequent flyer miles.
The couple, anxious to see their daughter and son-in-law, had reserved a flight from France to New York for November 2, based on a guess of when the travel ban would be lifted.
But when the date was officially set at November 8, the couple discovered that flying that day would have meant using three times as many miles as the original trip. In the end, they will arrive on November 9, using a more moderate amount of miles.
Airlines are planning for a modest pullback in January and February after a strong holiday season, but anticipate strong demand in the spring that will intensify in the summer, traditionally the busiest season.
The industry also expects a strong, but slower, recovery in travel to Asia.
Singapore Airlines, which benefitted from a recent decision by Singaporean authorities to allow quarantine-free travel for a far broader range of travellers from the US and Canada, anticipates flight frequency from North America to Singapore in December will reach 77 per cent of pre-COVID levels, thanks to the re-opening of voyages to Seattle and Vancouver, and for trips like Singapore-Frankfurt-New York.
Analyst at Morningstar Burkett Huey said airlines should have enough planes to meet rising demand. But whether there is sufficient staff is “a question mark”, he said.