Since February 2020, airlines have been steadily recovering. Sunday was the busiest day for travel at U.S. airports in months. However, the discovery of the Omicron Coronavirus variant could threaten to derail the industry’s recovery as it did with the Delta variant this summer.
Many countries, including the United States have banned visitors from South Africa. All foreigners are barred from Israel, Japan, Morocco, and Israel. The Philippines, however, has banned visitors from South Africa and many European countries.
Travel sector has voiced concern at the tightening restrictions. Willie Walsh of the International Air Transport Association, which is a global trade organization, made a statement last week calling for “safe alternatives” to quarantine and border closings. The U.S. Travel Association also urged the Biden administration not to change its ban.
“Covid variants can be a concern but closed borders haven’t prevented them from being present in the United States, while vaccinations have proven to be incredibly durable,” Tori Emerson Barnes (executive vice president for public affairs, policy) stated in a statement. We believe that the best way to receive qualified international travelers to the United States is to have a vaccine and testing requirement to enter the country.
The rebound in international travel by U.S. airlines has been slower than the one for domestic travel. However, President Biden’s decision this month to relax long-standing restrictions on foreign travel will help to spur that recovery. Although it is not yet clear how the Omicron variant might impact travel demand, if travel bans continue to increase and concerns about the variant spread, there could be another setback in international recovery.
Only two U.S. airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, fly from southern Africa. Both airlines have stated that they do not plan to change their schedules to accommodate the ban by the administration. It went into effect Monday. Delta has three weekly flights between Atlanta, Johannesburg and Newark each week. United operates five weekly flights between Newark, Johannesburg and Atlanta. It has not altered its plans to resume flights between Newark, Cape Town and Johannesburg on Wednesday.
The variant has not been reported by any major American airline. All passengers entering the United States must show proof of a negative Coronavirus testing. Non-citizens are also required to have their vaccinations up to date.
The United States has seen a significant improvement in air travel, despite many businesses being wary about sending employees on work-related trips. According to the Transportation Security Administration, the number of people who were screened at airport security checkpoints in the last week was only 12 percent less than the same week in 2019.
The industry was able to handle the influx of holiday travelers, and avoided disruptions that could have lasted days for some airlines in recent weeks. According to FlightAware (an aviation data provider), there were less than 600 cancellations in the seven days that ended Sunday. This accounts for less than 0.5% of domestic scheduled flights.