Ian Taylor speaks to UK boss Nadia Clinton as airline sees positive rebound and outlook
Demand for the US this summer and autumn is strong despite the impact of the high oil price on fares and the rising cost of living, according to Delta Air Lines.
Nadia Clinton, Delta Air Lines regional sales manager for the UK and Ireland, reported: “Bookings are very strong. Our flights are full.”
She noted: “Demand really picked up after US Covid-19 testing requirements were lifted [from June 12].”
Delta’s UK schedule is already “back to our 2019 capacity, with the exception of a couple of seasonal routes”, said Clinton.
She acknowledged the deteriorating economic outlook in the UK, Europe and US, but said: “We haven’t seen the rising cost of living affect demand for this summer or for the rest of this year. We can’t tell what demand will be like for 2023. But for now, demand remains very strong.”
Delta also remains largely unaffected by the disruption to flights across Europe, which has mainly hit short-haul flights, although similar disruption due to staff shortages has caused delays and cancellations within the US.
Clinton told Travel Weekly: “We made some schedule adjustments in the US domestically. We’ve faced challenges due to staff absence and have been affected by air traffic control delays and weather. But we only cancel flights as a last resort. We’re working very hard to protect our international long-haul schedule. We really try to protect our transatlantic services.”
We’re working very hard to protect our international long-haul schedule. We only cancel flights as a last resort
She pointed out: “Most airlines, airports and hospitality have faced disruption. Some of the media report this as though it’s just an airline problem, but it affects airports and hospitality.”
Clinton insisted: “We’ve not seen any impact of the disruption on summer bookings. Demand remains strong and bookings are strong for winter. We’re happy with our advance bookings.”
She added: “Corporate travel is returning, especially in the SME sector.” By the end of the first quarter of this year, corporate sales on Delta’s US domestic flights had recovered to 70% of 2019’s level and a Delta survey of corporate account holders found 90% “anticipate their volume of travel will increase this year and beyond”.
Clinton said: “We’ve seen a lot of corporates in the US remove all travel restrictions. Demand for the premium cabin is strong and corporates are booking more flexible fares. Demand is strong among UK corporates and in Europe. Since the lifting of test requirements, SME demand has been growing a lot faster than [large] corporate demand.”
She added: “Corporate clients haven’t seen colleagues face-to-face for three years. There are a lot of smaller meetings and we see huge demand for smaller conferences.”
But she noted: “The corporate booking window is a lot shorter than for leisure so it is too early to say [what corporate demand will be] for winter.”
The growing requirement to reduce the carbon footprint of businesses could reduce the number of corporate trips, yet Clinton insists Delta remains “comfortable” with the expected level of corporate demand.
She said: “We expect to see corporates combine two or three meetings in a single trip to meet sustainability requirements instead of taking two or three trips.
“We’ve seen this trend already. [But] we’ll work with our corporate partners to meet their needs.
“Sustainability is high on our agenda. We’re investing in sustainable aviation fuel [SAF], looking to replace 10% of jet fuel by SAF by 2030, and making a huge investment in more fuel-efficient aircraft.”
Carrier hails trade support and services with partner airlines
Delta has been located back at Heathrow Terminal 3 alongside joint-venture partner Virgin Atlantic since July last year and has also recently been joined at the terminal by partner airline group Air France-KLM.
UK regional manager Nadia Clinton said: “We’re excited to be back at T3 with our partner Virgin Atlantic and it was great to welcome Air France-KLM to T3 to allow customers to connect [at a single terminal].”
Delta offers 10 services a day from Heathrow to the US, flying to New York, Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Detroit, Seattle and, since last month, Salt Lake City. Its schedule is coordinated with Virgin Atlantic, which also offers multiple flights a day from Heathrow and recently launched to Austin.
The US carrier returned to Edinburgh in May, relaunching flights to New York and Boston, with the New York service going daily in June. Virgin Atlantic has also relaunched Edinburgh-Orlando and has restored its US services from Manchester.
Clinton declined to give an update on future plans but said: “We’re looking at opportunities as we continue to monitor demand.”
She highlighted relations with the trade as key to the carrier’s success, saying: “The trade is critical to us. We value our trade relationships.
“We have very strong relations with trade partners based on long-standing, trusted partnerships, and we’re delighted to be back engaging with them face-to-face. We value the trade and that will never change.”
Clinton noted: “Pre-pandemic, 70% of bookings came through the trade and it could be higher now.”
The strength of demand this summer means details of agent fam trips must wait for now. Clinton said: “Our flights are full and we probably won’t see educationals [this summer]. But we are working on fam trips.”