At the start of the summer, countries that were quicker to vaccinate their populations against Covid-19 were expected to be among the first to hit the beaches once international travel began to pick up.
It hasn’t always worked out that way, according to flight-tracking firm OAG. While some nations like the US and Spain have followed up swift inoculation campaigns with a corresponding uptick in air travel, others such as Canada and the UK have been more cautious.
Shots versus flights
In the top right corner of the chart above are what OAG chief analyst John Grant calls “smart” countries that have used vaccine access to spur travel and now allow carriers to offer at least 50% of their usual international seating.
In the bottom left are the “no hopers,” predominantly in Asia and Latin America, where vaccination rates are low and cross-border flights remain severely limited.
The bottom right quadrant shows “risk-takers” such as Mexico, where foreign flights have stormed back almost to pre-Covid levels even though the bulk of the population has yet to get a shot.
The data underscores the extent to which air travel in the Covid era remains dependent on government Covid policies.
The UK, for example — top left in the chart — tightened its borders to fight the delta variant, while the neighboring European Union has recovered more of its pre-pandemic tourism, despite a slower distribution of shots. A “digital passport” has made it easier to move around within the bloc.
In Asia, the Covid Zero approach that’s favored tight lockdowns over inoculation campaigns is being rethought — with Singapore dramatically ramping up its vaccine effort — but the results haven’t yet resulted in a re-establishment of international connections.
What’s happening in air travel this week
The pace of the global recovery is slowing. Aviation capacity climbed less than 1 percentage point over the past week, to about 67% of 2019 levels, according to Bloomberg’s weekly flight tracker, which uses OAG data to monitor the pulse of the comeback.
The increase was the smallest in four weeks. Europe’s reopening continues to build, and the region stands at about 61% of 2019 levels, the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic. It’s still too soon to say how far the progress will extend by summer’s end.
Ryanair Holdings Plc expects to recover 80% of its pre-pandemic capacity by then, said Eddie Wilson, head of the airline group’s main unit. Air travel is “gradually making its way back and I think that August will really show the level of the snapback,” he said this week at an online event this week staged by CAPA — Centre for Aviation.
The Irish carrier is Europe’s biggest low-cost airline. It’s made inroads in Italy, where Air Italy has shut down and bankrupt flag-carrier Alitalia SpA is being reorganized. Ryanair and smaller rival Wizz Air Holdings Plc stand to pick up more market share across the region as weaker competitors step back.
EasyJet Plc, which was more than double the size of Wizz at the start of the pandemic, has seen the gap shrink to almost nothing. The carrier has been held back by its reliance on its home UK market, where shifting rules and bad luck with the delta variant have stifled demand.
There’s hope of relief come Monday, when schools let out and double-vaccinated residents will be allowed to return to England without quarantine from more than 100 medium-risk countries.
EasyJet Chief Executive Officer Johan Lundgren lashed out at the government on Wednesday for allowing people to go out to nightclubs in England without a mask or social distancing, while placing Spain’s Balearic islands including Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza on the so-called amber list that requires a 10-day quarantine on return unless the traveler has received two vaccine doses.
“Yet again we see this double standard where travel is treated differently to the domestic economy,” Lundgren said.
The overlapping segments of long-distance and business travel that drive premium priced ticket sales make up a big part of the missing 33% of global capacity, and there’s a strong debate on how soon and to what degree they will come back.
Delta Air Lines Inc CEO Ed Bastian weighed in this week as the airline reported its first quarterly profit on a pretax basis of the pandemic, boosted by government aid.
The US carrier expects domestic corporate travel to recover to 60% of 2019 levels by September, helping to drive a profit recovery, up from 40% in June and 20% in March. “It’s accelerating just like we saw in the US with consumers,” Bastian said in an interview.
Early September also is when the executive expects many corporations to fully re-open their offices and for workers to return.
“Then when international markets are open, particularly European markets to the US, that’s another big piece of demand,” he said. “As those markets open, we’re going to see significant growth in business travel.”