UK travel industry hails ‘very welcome’ US border reopening

The relaxation of restrictions for tourists entering the US has seen a sharp rise in scheduled flights and bookings from the UK and Europe, according to data.

US restrictions on international travel were relaxed from today (November 8) following confirmation that fully-vaccinated visitors from the UK and EU on October 15.

Travel data and analytics firm Cirium compared scheduled flights in November against last month, showing 928,559 seats available on 3,688 flights between the UK and US compared with 771,587 seats on 3,041 flights in October – a 21% increase.

However, available seats on transatlantic routes this month are less than half the number in November 2019, when there were 1,954,700 seats on 7,159 flights between the UK and US.

British Airways is operating 1,697 flights this month, Virgin Atlantic 634, American Airlines 632, United Airlines 400, and Delta Air Lines 205.

There are 730 flights scheduled between Heathrow and New York JFK, making it the busiest route this month, more than double the next busiest, which is Heathrow to/from Los Angeles LAX which has 318 flights scheduled. There are also 238 services between Heathrow and Chicago, 230 between Heathrow and Washington Dulles, a further 230 between Heathrow and Miami, and 228 between Heathrow and Boston, according to Cirium.

Across Europe, there are 1,824,283 one-way seats to the US this month on 6,605 flights, compared with the 3,136,199 seats on 11,287 flights in November 2019. This represents a 42% drop in seats and 41% drop in the number of flights.

Heathrow has the most departures to the US, with 1,753 flights scheduled, followed by Paris Charles de Gaulle (755 flights), Frankfurt (745), Amsterdam (563) and Istanbul (372).

Rachel Humphries, Cirium’s director of communications, said the figures show airlines are “already ramping up transatlantic travel”.

She added: “Although November 2021 transatlantic flights are still 49% down compared to November 2019, it’s a positive sign that UK/US flights are increasing month-over month.”

Abta said 18% of people who plan to holiday abroad hope to travel to the US over the next year – making it the second most popular destination UK holidaymakers say they plan to travel to.

Chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “The reopening of travel to the US is a very welcome development.

“Pre-pandemic figures show that 4.8 million UK travellers visited the destination in 2019, drawn by vibrant cities, national parks and entertainment venues, with New York and Florida among the most popular destinations.

“The USA is also a destination where people go to study, visit friends and relatives and do business. The reconnecting of the USA and UK is a significant step in the recovery of international travel, helping to re-establish vital trade links which are so vital to the delivery of the Government’s ambition to build a truly Global Britain.”

Global distribution system (GDS) Travelport said its data showed UK travellers have been the most keen to visit the US.

It reported that US-bound flights from the UK were searched more than US-bound flights from all other European countries combined in the 24 hours following the September 20 announcement that fully-vaccinated travellers from the UK and EU would be allowed to enter the US from ‘early November‘. UK travellers searched more than 1.4 million flights from London to New York in the period.

Bookings followed a similar trend, said Travelport, with more US-bound flights from the UK booked than those from Germany, Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland and Denmark combined.

After president Biden’s second announcement, on October 15, when more countries were added to the approved list, the UK remained the top source market for searches and bookings. Travelport said there was a 108% increase in bookings the week after October 15 against the week prior to the September 20 announcement.

In the 24 hours following each announcement, US-bound flight bookings for Thanksgiving weekend increased by 1,600% and 2,200% respectively, according to Travelport, which noted solo travellers and couples were the “most ready to get away”, with increases in flight bookings of 279% and 231% respectively following the second announcement.

Relative to the announcements, the UK has recovered 68% of its outbound international travel, a higher percentage than France and Germany, the GDS said, which said “numbers continue to increase daily and are at their highest rate since the pandemic began”.

Family holiday favourite Orlando is the most booked US destination for Brits, accordint to Travelport, with August 2022 the most popular month for travel to Florida – ahead of Walt Disney World Resort’s 50th Anniversary celebration.

Orlando was booked more than New York, but Travelport noted that pre-pandemic Orlando was the second most-popular destination.

After Orlando and New York, Miami ranked third, Las Vegas fourth and Los Angeles fifth for Brits booking US flights.

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of travel agency consortium the Advantage Travel Partnership, said US bookings have increased for both leisure and business trips.

“Travel management companies booking business travel will be particularly relieved that finally the lucrative transatlantic corridor will once again be open which will certainly help to build their businesses back after such a turbulent time,” she said. “We know from our members whose businesses rely on business travel that there is significant pent-up demand for corporate travel to the US with the London to New York route being the most important.”

But she warned: “Travel however still remains incredibly complicated. Testing still remains confusing, for example, it’s not widely known that the lateral flow test required for entry into the US has to be videoed. And domestic Covid protocols once in the US differ from state to state.

“The need for a human travel agent to help both business and leisure travellers navigate their way through the booking process is more important than ever. We will continue to collaborate closely with all of our partners, our members, trade bodies and the Government to support the travel industry at this vital time of recovery.”

Frits de Kok, interim managing director at Flight Centre-owned travel management companies (TMCs) FCM and Corporate Traveller, said the easing of restrictions for travel to the US “hugely significant” and “a welcome milestone” in efforts to rebuild the travel industry after Covid.

“We are optimistic the restoration of the vital connectivity between the UK and US will accelerate economic recovery, while our own research shows that both businesses and consumers are ready to return to travel,” he said.

The two brands reported a 92% month-over-month uplift in transatlantic flight bookings for October. “This indicates indicating a strong desire to return to in-person meetings for successful business development,” said de Kok.

“Unsurprisingly, a positive trajectory is emerging for the month ahead as the industry begins its journey to full recovery. We expect lead times to shorten and a steady uptick to emerge by the end of the month and thereafter.”

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