United CEO says ‘too late’ for wave of transatlantic travel this summer – Skift
Europe is slowly reopening to travelers. Italy dropped its mandatory quarantine for Europeans and Israelis with negative PCR tests, and the first flights to “green list” countries from the UK took off on Monday.
But all the positive news comes too late for the generally busy summer transatlantic travel season. With the US banned from the first green list and talking about reopening the EU to vaccinated travelers, most Americans book their vacations closer to home and few expect them to change their mid-term and spring plans for Europe when restrictions ease.
âWe’re probably getting to the point where we’re too late on the booking curve for the rest of Europe,â United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said at a Bloomberg Live event on Monday. Through the rest of Europe, he referred to countries that have yet to reopen to travelers, including France, Germany and the UK.
Bookings in countries that have reopened to Americans – namely Croatia, Greece and Iceland – are strong, Kirby said. So robust that United has moved up its planned launch of new flights to Dubrovnik, and traded in a larger aircraft on some flights to Athens.
Even Kirby himself is benefiting from these reopenings. He has already booked a trip to Croatia with his family this summer, he added.
A second lost summer across the North Atlantic comes as a surprise to some. On May 11, Cowen analyst Helane Becker wrote that the Biden administration and others were due to make a decision on whether to reopen international travel in the “10-day next week” or else potential travelers would go elsewhere.
âAmericans are planning their summer trips now, and without a decision on Europe anytime soon, we believe they will continue to travel to Mexico, Hawaii, Alaska, the Caribbean and other markets in the United States. United, âshe wrote.
US airlines are responding to this demand by flying their biggest jets on often short routes to leisure destinations this summer. For example, at American Airlines, wide-body aircraft fly to Cancun, Las Vegas, and Orlando, and at Delta Air Lines, they go to Denver, Phoenix, and San Diego.
“While [American, Delta and United] could quickly redeploy capacity across the Atlantic in the event the EU reopens, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should, except for markets like Greece and Iceland which have announced their intention to reopen to vaccines with a delay longer for reservations, âwrote Jamie Baker, an analyst at JP Morgan, on May 6. He said it made financial sense for all three carriers to continue flying large jets to Cancun or Las Vegas, where summer bookings are already strong.
In July, the last month in which timetables are finalized, passenger capacity between Europe and the United States is down almost 48% compared to 2019, according to data from Diio. The domestic capacity of the United States fell only about 9%, and that of the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America increased by almost 2%.
Another summer of Americans visiting destinations closer to home raises the possibility of a long-term change in travel habits. American and United have both stated that their international cards will look different after Covid-19 than before, although what that looks like differs for the two carriers.
âIn this business, nothing is really permanent,â said Brian Znotins, US vice president of network planning and scheduling. said Airline Weekly this week. âWhatever we do now, we would ultimately like to stick to one form or another. People can discover new places to travelâ¦ and they [may] find that they really like Key West and want to go back. “
Additional reporting by Madhu Unnikrishnan.