CHICAGO/LONDON: America's reopening to international air travelers can't come soon enough for US and European airlines which have sorely missed the lucrative transatlantic market.
The Biden administration's decision on Monday to reopen the country to fully-vaccinated air travellers from around the world will allow tens of thousands of passengers to fly to the United States from early November.
For the large traditional European airline players, like British Airways-owner IAG, Lufthansa and Air France-KLM, it represents a chance to recover the transatlantic routes that are key to their profits.
U.S. carriers, American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, will also benefit, although their finances had already been helped by a recovery in the large U.S. domestic market to near pre-pandemic levels.
"The transatlantic market is a key profit generator for the main European legacy airline groups," said Bernstein analyst Daniel Roeska.
Pre-pandemic, in 2019, those routes accounted for more than 26% of IAG's revenues, Roeska estimates, over 24% of Lufthansa's and over 16% of Air France-KLM's. Transatlantic flights accounted for between 11% and 17% of U.S. airlines passenger revenues that year.
Shares in IAG rose 4% on Tuesday, having jumped 11% on Monday when the White House announced the reopening. Air France was up 3% on Tuesday. The news will also benefit British-based airline Virgin Atlantic, a transatlantic specialist, which has turned to cargo to help it survive the pandemic.
The lifting of restrictions coincides with the onset of winter season, historically a lean period for international travel, when many airlines tend to make a loss. Colin Scarola, vice president equity research at CFRA Research, said the decision would encourage companies to approve overseas business trips, yet COVID-19 risks remain, and he does not expect international travel to rebound to pre-pandemic levels before late 2022.
British Airways said that its customers were keen to fly again, citing an increase of nearly 700% in searches for holidays to U.S. destinations like New York, Orlando, Las Vegas and Miami on its website on Monday, versus the same day last week.