At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, a line goes through security as travelers return to heaven after largely staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic. David Schaper / NPR hide caption
David Schaper / NPR
David Schaper / NPR
Are you looking for a non-stop flight between Appleton, Wisconsin and Savannah, Georgia? It will be available soon. Or how about Austin, Texas, to Nashville, Tenn? Louisville, Ky., To Los Angeles? Or from almost anywhere to Bozeman, Mont.?
These are some of the new, unconventional domestic routes airlines are now offering to take advantage of the huge pent-up demand for vacation travel and return to profitability while waiting for business travel to rebound.
For the larger airlines, American, Delta, and United in particular, gaining loyalty from business travelers was like capturing the Holy Grail, as those street fighters who flew tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of miles a year, were often booked last minute and would be higher Pay tariffs. However, since many business conferences and meetings are held through Zoom and there are still many restrictions on business travel, very few of them have returned to flying.
Instead, those who fly now are more like Gabe Holmes, who seems almost dizzy, to travel again while checking in with his family at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
“Yes, on the way to Florida! We’re very excited! Definitely! I’m looking forward to it,” said Holmes.
The 43-year-old from Grand Rapids, Michigan said life was a real struggle during the coronavirus pandemic, but now that he’s been vaccinated, he said, “I was itchy to get out.” “I’m cooped up, work, at home, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19, vacation trips are beginning to begin. The Transportation Security Administration said it screened more than 1.6 million people at security checkpoints at the airport on May 2. This is the highest number of air travelers since the beginning of March last year, when the pandemic started. On the first Sunday in May 2020, only 170,000 people nationwide passed through the TSA checkpoints.
Shyla Harris of Hammond, Indiana, is another traveler who found the joy of flying again for the first time in a long time.
“I’m going to Las Vegas. This is my first time,” said the 21-year-old before going through security at O’Hare.
“I’m ready! I’m going to get drunk! I’m getting a tattoo! I’m just ready,” she said before adding. “I don’t even know what else I’m going to tattoo, but I’m going to get something.” ! “
Humberto Rodriguez from Chicago also wants to fly again.
“I’m going to Orlando. I’m going to take my kids to Disney, stuff like that, and do some sightseeing, you know,” he said with his wife, a 4-year-old and a baby in tow.
Rodriguez said he hadn’t traveled in over a year. “So it’s time to take a vacation. We couldn’t really do anything during the year due to COVID, so it’s a good chance to go now.” and enjoy ourselves. “
As a result, airlines are rushing to add more flights to vacation destinations to accommodate the surge. And they’re not just resuming service in the same cities they flew to before the pandemic.
“The book has been rewritten since COVID,” said Will Livsey, a data analyst at aviation analysis firm Cirium, which tracks airline flight plans and routes, among other things.
“We have a story about how things were made for many, many years, but now it’s getting into a pandemic and you’re literally rewriting the book,” says Livsey. “The airlines are trying new things, if you will, new experiments, to get planes where they think they will make the most money.”
Here are a few examples of how airlines are trying to capitalize on the rise in vacation travel and new traveler market demands:
- Allegiant Air launches nonstop flights from Des Moines, Iowa, to Houston, San Diego and Portland, Ore.
- JetBlue will fly from Boston to Kansas City, Milwaukee and Asheville, NC and has entered into a new partnership with American Airlines that will also add flights to destinations in the Northeast.
- Spirit Airlines also flies to new airports and flies from Milwaukee and Louisville to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Orlando, Florida.
And Livsey says all airlines are improving service to airports near national parks, especially in the west.
“The Montanas, the Dakotas of the world,” says Livsey, adding, “Who would have seen this coming?”
“The airlines have been really nimble and we’ve seen them react pretty quickly to the types of routes and types of travel travelers are demanding,” said Melanie Lieberman, senior tour guide on The Points Guy’s travel and lifestyle website A survey was recently released showing that half of adults in the US plan to have at least one vacation this summer and that many travelers prefer to visit larger open spaces.
“With the decline in business travel and even the delay in getting back to the cities, we’ve seen airlines double up on these gates to national and state parks, destinations that offer much more outdoor recreation,” she says . “I think that’s a real indicator of what people want right now and the airlines are very quick to respond to that.”
After losing billions of dollars over the past year, airlines hope that their moves to smaller secondary markets and serving national parks will help them return to profitability while waiting for the more lucrative business and international travelers to return.
For example, United Airlines will add nearly 500 domestic flights a day this summer, including new routes to vacation destinations like Yellowstone National Park and Kona, Hawaii. American, Delta and Southwest are adding more flights and creating new routes this summer, as are JetBlue, Alaska, Hawaiian and discount airlines like Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit and Sun Country.
“I think everyone is very optimistic about domestic opportunities,” said Livsey of Cirium. “Airlines are much more eager to be risk tolerant when trying new routes like this than they were before the pandemic. We’re definitely seeing a lot of changes.”
But it will be some time before people are traveling back to the way they were before the pandemic, according to Lieberman of The Points Guy’s.
“I think we’ll see that the preference for wide open spaces really persists,” said Lieberman. “And the airlines are reacting to this by flying more and more frequently and equipping national parks with gateways. This strategy makes a lot of sense.”
For those who have not flown in a while, a few words of caution.
The rock bottom fares airlines offered last year when no one was flying are gradually disappearing as flights to domestic destinations fill up quickly.
“You can definitely find deals, but you have to be incredibly patient and very flexible. There’s so much demand for many of the same types of travel,” says Lieberman, who says travelers may be more fortunate to find bargain trips to cities like Chicago, New Orleans, St. Louis, Philadelphia or Memphis, Tennessee, than in the national parks Acadia, Glacier, Yellowstone or Zion.
The planes are now mostly full, and Delta, the last airline to block the center seats, is no longer doing so.
The Federal Aviation Administration warns of an increase in disruptive passenger behavior, often involving people who refuse to wear masks. The agency says there will be no tolerance for such recalcitrant behavior, and announced on Wednesday that it is proposing fines ranging from $ 9,000 to $ 32,750 on four passengers for recent incidents. The TSA announced last week that masks will continue to be mandatory on flights operated by commercial airlines and at airports until at least September 13th.
Rental cars are in In short supply in many markets in the US so is expected to be quite expensive this summer.
The pandemic created one too Labor shortage In many resorts and vacation destinations this summer, a shortage of staff can lead to longer waiting times in restaurants and some restrictions on services.
Regardless of the fact that many Americans don’t vacation at all or stay relatively close to home in the past year, it is expected to be a pretty busy summer, as is the case with many US vacation destinations.