Airline executives cast doubt on European summer vacations with borders still closed

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Delta Air Lines Airbus A330neo or A330-900 aircraft with neo engine option of the European plane manufacturer, as seen departing from Amsterdam Schiphol AMS EHAM International airport.
Nicolas Economou | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Hoping to take a European vacation this summer? You may be out of luck.

Borders in much of Europe have been closed to most U.S. citizens and vice versa for more than a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Airline executives on Thursday said they didn’t expect them to open in time for the peak summer season.

Travel industry leaders have pressed the Biden administration for a plan to reopen borders, including standards for health documentation such as proof of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said on a quarterly call that the company is focused on lifting restrictions that have hindered travel between the U.S. and U.K., but that other popular tourist destinations may take longer.

The White House didn’t immediately comment.

“When you think about other parts of Europe, there may be some occasional markets open this summer based on Southern Mediterranean leisure traffic that people will be interested in,” Bastian said on the call. “But I don’t think you’re going to see continental Europe opened in any meaningful way till later in the year. We’ll probably unfortunately miss much of the summer for most of continental Europe.”

Delta and rivals like American Airlines and United Airlines have said domestic travel has rebounded sharply from the depths of the pandemic, but international travel, still facing a web of entry restrictions and a lag in vaccinations, remains weak.

Delta on Thursday said its domestic passenger revenue dropped 66% to $2.3 billion in the first quarter compared with the same period of 2019, but trans-Atlantic revenue was 87% less at $142 million while trans-Pacific was off 89% at $62 million.

Naples, Italy vs. Naples, Florida

U.S. carriers have refocused their once sprawling global networks toward domestic destinations, particularly those that offer outdoor attractions like beaches and mountains. Airlines have added service to tourist hotspots in Florida, Wyoming and Montana. They have also seen upticks in demand to beach destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico.

American Airlines on Wednesday, for example, announced it would bring its summer domestic schedule to nearly the same levels as it operated in 2019.

Brian Znotins, American Airlines’ vice president of network planning told CNBC that demand for European summer vacations will be tough to generate even if borders open up in the coming season.

“Usually a European vacation is planned months in advance,” he said. “So people today if they’re looking to take a trip this summer, which a lot of people are, they don’t feel very confident about booking a trip to Rome and so they’re going to make that hotel reservation in Jackson Hole or Honolulu or Cancun.

“You don’t expect to see demand just appear the day after a country opens, especially from a leisure point of view,” he said.

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