“Have vaccine, will travel,” appear to be buzzwords in the network planning department at Delta Air Lines as the carrier adds flights to Iceland following the country’s decision to reopen to vaccinated travelers.
The Atlanta-based carrier will add new service between Boston and Reykjavík from May 20, and resume flights between both Minneapolis/St. Paul and New York JFK and the Icelandic capital the same month. All three routes will be flown with Boeing 757-200 aircraft. The move comes less than two weeks after Iceland announced that it would reopen without restrictions to all non-European travelers who are fully vaccinated.
“As confidence in travel rises, we hope more countries continue reopening to vaccinated travelers,” said Joe Esposito, senior vice president of network planning at Delta, on Friday.
Delta’s move portends a new trend among international airline planning: jumping at markets as they remove Covid-19 travel restrictions. European carriers are already doing this within the 25-nation EU bloc as individual members ease limits. And with many would-be travelers eager to get out — that “pent up demand” nearly every airline executive likes to mention — more such international routes seem inevitable.
The situation is something of a Field of Dreams conundrum for countries. Build it and they will come, or remove restrictions for vaccinated travelers and airlines — and hopefully visitors — will pile in. This can be good news for economies hard-hit by the pandemic but also raises safety questions until the vast majority of a population is vaccinated, which is often said to be at least more than 70 percent of adults.
Notable in Iceland’s case is that American travelers can arrive with just their Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccination card for verification. This comes as organizations race to develop a new breed of digital health passports that can prove a traveler meets local rules, be it with a vaccine or negative Covid-19 test, electronically. While many airlines have embraced these solutions to streamline often complicated verification procedures, governments have yet to agree on a set of standards and few have signed on to one of the myriad of platforms.
“We think we have no choice but getting this type of solution,” Air France Operational Performance Director Emmanuelle Ferracci told Airline Weekly on the carrier’s AOKpass trial earlier in March. “If we don’t find any solution… then we will have some congestion on the boarding, and this will be a nightmare in terms of customer experience.”
While Air France and Delta are close partners, the U.S. carrier has trialed the CLEAR Health Pass on select flights to Hawaii to test the technology. The airline plans to share more details on its digital health passport plans “soon,” said spokesperson Drake Castañeda.
Delta purchased a five-percent stake in CLEAR, which also provides biometric screening at airports and other venues across the U.S., in 2016.
The carrier’s expanded Iceland service will operate under its transatlantic joint venture with Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic Airways. However, many routes between Europe and the U.S. remain suspended because of Covid-19 travel restrictions. While summer schedules remain in flux and are likely to change, the four carriers’ combined transatlantic capacity will be down 13 percent in the third quarter compared to 2019, according to Cirium schedules.
Note: Story updated with comment from Delta.