Airlines rush with bookings as U.S reopens for all vaccinated travelers

Airline reservations to the United States took off immediately after the White House announced the country would reopen to all vaccinated international voyagers starting next week, compelling a welcome — if challenging — industry pivot, Agence France-Presse reported.

According to the report, the long-awaited US move to welcome back international travelers — which takes effect Monday — 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, the report said.

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.

At United Airlines, traffic to Latin America has fully returned to its level from 2019, but the rest of international travel remains at only about 63 per cent.

The US carrier is betting big on a vibrant return to international travel, introducing five new destinations in the spring including in Spain and Norway, adding flights for popular destinations such as Rome and Dublin and reviving service to Frankfurt, Nice and other cities.

The industry also expects a strong, but slower, recovery in travel to Asia.

Traditionally, airlines fly wide body planes across the Atlantic on busy routes to provide comfortable seats for business travelers, and then organize smaller planes for touristic destinations.

But if business travelers are late to come back, airlines could decide to plan more direct flights using the newer narrow body jets with longer range, the AFP reported.