The airlines prepare to receive travelers on Monday vaccinated against Covid-19 from 33 countries, authorized to return to USA after 18 months of border closure.
To meet the challenge, airlines that rely heavily on trans-Pacific and transatlantic routes added flights, chose larger planes, and secured enough staff.
The White House announcement about the lifting of restrictions was expected for months by separated families, business travelers or simple tourists, since because of the coronavirus, Washington drastically limited the arrival of passengers from those countries, including the Schengen area, Great Britain, China, India and Brazil.
Ticket purchases immediately exploded. British Airways saw flight and stay reservations grow by 900% in some US cities for the days before Christmas, compared to the week preceding the White House announcement.
On American Airlines, the reserves rose 66% towards Britain after the announcement, 40% to Europe and 74% to Brazil.
The flights on November 8, the reopening date, were taken over, as Evelyne and Jean-Michel Desobeau confirmed.
Eager to see his daughter and son-in-law in New York, booked tickets for November 2 since rumors spread about the reopening, using their miles.
But when they wanted to change them for the 8, the number of miles needed had tripled. And finally they will arrive on the 9th for a more reasonable rate.
More flights and seats
Companies filled long-flying planes with empty seats, progressively adding new places.
The company Air France It recently went from three to five daily flights between Paris and New York, its busiest line. On the route to Houston, it will replace the Airbus 330s with Boeing 777s, with more seats.
Air France It expects to return between now and March 2022 at 90% of its pre-pandemic capacity in the United States, compared to the 65% it reached in October.
After a probably moderate downturn in January-February, companies expect a rise in spring and especially in summer, traditionally the best season.
On United, the programming of flights to tourist destinations in Latin America has already returned to the levels of 2019, but its international programming remains at 63%.
The US firm is committed to transatlantic flights: five new destinations will reopen in spring (Jordan, Portugal, Norway, Spain); will add flights to London, Berlin, Dublin, Milan, Munich and Rome; and it will reopen routes interrupted during the pandemic, including Frankfurt, Nice and Zurich.
But while they are being opened for some, the borders will in fact be closed for many Latin Americans with less access to the vaccine in their countries and who until now traveled as tourists to the United States to get immunized.
As well as for those who have received vaccines against Covid-19 that have not been approved by the FDA drug agency or the World Health Organization (WHO). Being unable to enter the United States for the moment those immunized with the Russian Sputnik V and the Chinese CanSino, which were applied in many Latin American countries, including Argentina and Mexico.
Uncertainty for personnel
Air traffic is also reactivated in the trans-Pacific, but more slowly.
Singapore Airlines, which took advantage of the opening of a corridor for vaccinated passengers between Singapore and North America in October, expects to return to 77% of its precovid flights between the two areas in December, with the reopening of routes between Seattle and Vancouver.
For Burkett Huey, Air Transport Specialist at Morningstar, airlines have enough planes to handle the flow of travelers: “Some large carriers were removed from the fleets in 2020, but nothing that completely alters the landscape.”
The uncertainty concerns the staff, he assures. On USA, where companies established extensive voluntary retirement plans at the beginning of the pandemic, American and Southwest they had to cancel thousands of flights recently due to lack of workers.
The question concerns above all the return of business travelers, favorites of companies.
In transatlantic flights, companies until now favored some key routes with large carriers, to include comfortable seats for business travelers, and completed the routes with internal flights in the United States and Europe.
But with fewer business travelers, they could propose more direct routes to tourists, using new, smaller but long-distance planes like the A321neo.