British Airways, Latam Airlines Group, Lufthansa, Swiss and Virgin Atlantic are among the growing number of carriers seeing a surge in U.S. bookings since the Biden administration said Monday that it would ease entry restrictions for vaccinated travelers from November.
Latam is the latest to report an eye-popping number: Bookings for flights between Brazil and the U.S. jumped 350 percent in the 24 hours after the announcement compared with the day before. Although the carrier did not provide a base off of which the jump occurred, the rapid rise is a confirmation of the “pent-up demand” for air travel that airline industry leaders have said lies in wait for restrictions to fall and borders to open. Latam operates Miami and New York John F. Kennedy flights from its São Paulo Guarulhos hub, and said the reopening could move up its resumption of Boston and Orlando flights.
Most eyes, however, are focused on the return of European holidaygoers who have effectively been blocked from the U.S. since March 2020. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic both said they saw triple digit booking increases — Virgin up to 600 percent — overnight after the announcement, while Lufthansa and Swiss reported more sedate double-digit increases.
“It was a pleasant shock to get that news,” Air France-KLM Group CEO Ben Smith said Wednesday at the Skift Global Forum in New York. While he said it was too early to forecast any change in demand, Smith noted that he expects the year-end holidays will be strong for the group.
Although the reopening has improved many carriers’ year-end holiday outlook, the real focus is on the peak summer travel season next year. That’s when many Europeans are expected to pack their bags for — in many cases — delayed holidays to the U.S., whether it be sightseeing, visiting friends and relatives, or maybe just a long-planned trip to a Disney park.
“By the summer, we expect another jailbreak, and strong traffic on the north Atlantic,” wrote Cowen & Co. analyst Helane Becker on September 21. She expects the major U.S. carriers American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines will be major beneficiaries of that boom.
American CEO Doug Parker, speaking at a Washington Post Live event on September 21, said the easing of restrictions was “good news,” and that it would “absolutely will drive bookings.” He did not provide any data on bookings since the announcement.
Returning travelers mean more flights will come back as well. While few carriers have finalized their summer 2022 schedules, there is a lot of room to come up from 2021 levels. Transatlantic capacity between Europe and the U.S. was down nearly 64 percent from June to August compared 2019, according to Cirium schedules. Comparatively, capacity within Europe was down 38 percent and within the U.S. just 9 percent over the same period.
Swiss is among the first airlines to set a return date for one of its suspended U.S. routes since the announcement. Flights between Geneva and New York JFK will return in mid-December, just in time to pick up some of that pent-up holiday travel traffic.