If things go perfectly, U.S. airlines’ seat capacity in July will return to almost where it was in July 2019, when demand in this pre-Covid-19 environment propelled U.S. carriers to one of their busiest months in history.
Sadly, things are very unlikely to turn out perfectly, especially in international air transport markets.
Despite new indications that countries may open their borders to fully vaccinated U.S. travelers at various times this summer, most countries remain, for now, primarily closed to U.S. travelers who do not want to go through quarantine protocols. long, expensive and frustrating when they arrive in these countries.
And even when these countries open up to American visitors – and the United States returns the favor by allowing visitors from those same countries – you can expect that many travelers will remain nervous about venturing out. abroad while the pandemic is not yet over. And even those who are very keen on traveling abroad will likely be forced to jump over more hurdles than usual to do so.
As it stands, US carriers expect to offer only around 2% seats departing in July in the domestic market compared to July 2019. This is based on the schedules they already have. deposited and seats already available for sale.
And they currently have around 11.1 million seats departing on international flights slated for July. That’s around 3 million international seats less than what was offered in July 2019, but far more than their almost non-existent seat offerings in international markets a year ago.
Yet those 11.1 million international departing July seats currently on sale are roughly 5.1 million more departing seats than what US airlines had in offer for that month – May. The chances that demand for international travel will almost double in just two months as the pandemic continues, even at a slower pace, are not high.
And making the challenge even more difficult is the high likelihood that U.S. carriers will significantly reduce the number of international seats they eventually use in July. How many international seats they’ll actually steal this month compared to the 5.1 million they’ve started trying to sell is still unknown. But every month since last summer, when airlines started predicting a pickup in demand after the initial demand collapse following the Covid-19 pandemic, they started by scheduling much more capacity. – domestically and internationally – for the month only to cancel millions of seats by the middle of the month, once they recognized how much demand was going to be below their original and optimistic forecasts. And that process is likely to repeat itself this month, in June, in July, and perhaps for many months to come.
For example, according to OAG, which tracks airline capacity, sales, and other data globally, in the United States. carriers started the year with 449 million seats departing on domestic routes offered in the first six months. But in each of the first four months of this year, they had to cancel thousands of scheduled domestic flights containing millions of seats, as the demand just didn’t materialize to justify that many flights and seats. Currently, their total national seats offered for the first six months of this year have fallen to 348 million, with the rest of May and the entire month of June still to go. So although demand is increasing now, thanks to rising vaccination rates and many people desperately in need of an emotional fix for their Travel Jones, it is likely that these same carriers will end up canceling more flights. in May and June. They may end up only stealing around 300 million indoor seats in the first six months of this year. That would be a third less than what they were originally offering at the start of the year.
So if we apply the same percentage – a drop of one-third – to international travel demand, the 11.1 million seats that US carriers initially offered for sale in July would be close to 7.4 million. But since international travel is both more expensive and is not even certain to be allowed yet, the OAG suggests that the total number of seats that will be available on international flights of US carriers could be much lower than that.
The OAG also notes that in July, U.S. carriers currently plan to serve only 1,117 foreign airports, which is 267 fewer foreign airports than they served in July 2019 (but significantly more than the 532 foreign airports they served in July 2020).
Currently, a number of European countries are working on plans to begin allowing entry of fully vaccinated Americans – and possibly those from a number of other countries. But details, dates, and testing protocols aren’t all set yet, which means Americans who need to plan their summer vacation in May in order to schedule the rest of their busy summer around those dates might not. not be able to commit to travel, say UK or Europe and will have to go to another destination that is easier to plan. It is highly likely that these trip planners will instead opt for a domestic destination, or perhaps a trip to Mexico, where American travelers face few restrictions upon arriving in Mexico or returning home. In fact, the absence of restrictions explains why the US-Mexico travel market, still one of the largest travel markets for US citizens, now ranks, at least temporarily, as the most important international air travel market. busy in the world.
Meanwhile, many consumers continue to worry about traveling during the pandemic. Others are seeing their summers truncated by a late school year end as many districts across the country continue to go until June to make up for lost school weeks during the year. And most countries are just beginning to consider when and how to reopen their borders to visitors and risk missing the key travel planning window for many who would otherwise want to go.
Thus, it is increasingly clear that the optimism of US carriers about carrying many more international travelers this summer is starting to fade now, even before the summer travel season officially begins in four weeks. .