As European destinations continue to reopen, airlines are scrambling to restore or add new flights across the pond. But it may not be the mass invasion that some might have predicted: Transatlantic flight capacity this summer is still down about 52 percent compared to before the pandemic, according to travel booking site Hopper. Demand is also still well below 2019 levels, with consumers likely waiting for more clarity regarding travel restrictions before booking.
The result is that there are not only plenty of seats available but some surprisingly good deals as well. Despite the excitement surrounding Europe finally reopening to U.S. leisure travelers after a 15-month ban, “demand is [still] lower than usual, partly due to a somewhat ambiguous reopening timeline and varying testing requirements among EU member countries,” says Hopper economist Adit Damodaran. “Especially with international travel, travelers prefer to book those trips at least 50 days in advance of departure, so having a clear reopening timeline is important.”
He adds that countries that did reopen earlier in the spring seem to be benefiting from a first-mover advantage. Take the case of Iceland, which in March became one of the first countries to welcome Americans who were fully vaccinated. The country saw a 93 percent spike in searches following the announcement, “the biggest surge in search traffic we saw to date in 2021 for reopening internationally,” says Damodaran.
Airlines quickly jumped in with flights to Reykjavík—United Airlines and Delta Air Lines are both flying nonstop from New York (Delta also flies there from Boston and its Minneapolis hub and United from Chicago). Additionally, Icelandair this spring resumed its service to a handful of U.S. cities. At press time, airfares to the Icelandic capital were averaging just $532 roundtrip, a drop of 18 percent from two years ago; for transatlantic flights in general, the average fare is around $900 for peak season departures, according to Hopper.
One caveat: As Europe continues to reemerge from lockdown, flight schedules will continue to evolve and some routes could have less frequent service than prior to the pandemic. “We’re constantly monitoring demand, along with the border reopenings,” says Patrick Quayle, United’s vice president of international network and alliances. He adds that the carrier “is pivoting the network” to focus more on leisure destinations, as business travel may take longer to return to prepandemic levels.
Here, a look at how air service is shaping up to other top destinations in Europe.
Flights to France
Flights to Paris never came to a complete halt during the pandemic, but airlines are currently heading back to France in force now that France has fully reopened to American travelers: American Airlines is flying from Dallas and New York, and United is serving Paris from New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Delta, which also partners with Air France and KLM, offers flights from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Atlanta, and is launching three-times-weekly service to the French capital from Detroit and, as of July 7, from Minneapolis–St. Paul. Delta will start flying to Nice from JFK on July 8.
And new this summer, Air France will be launching nonstop service from Denver, with three flights weekly to Paris Charles De Gaulle airport, starting July 2.
Two niche airlines are also re-entering the scene: boutique airline La Compagnie, which had been completely grounded since spring of 2020, is back with its all-business-class flights from Newark to Paris Orly, starting with twice-a-week service as of early June, with plans to increase to four and five flights a week in July and August, respectively. Daily service will be fully restored by September; the carrier is also resuming thrice-weekly flights to Nice. Fares start at $1,700 roundtrip.
On July 14 (Bastille Day, appropriately enough) budget airline French Bee will resume its flights to Paris Orly from both Newark and San Francisco (the latter city a stop on the line’s ultra-long-haul flight between France and Tahiti). The carrier’s website lists fares of $139 one-way from Newark and $189 each way from San Francisco.
Flights to Italy
Italy’s “COVID-tested” flights program no longer applies: Americans, vaccinated or not, can now travel to Italy without having to quarantine or take a government-approved flight as long as they have been vaccinated for COVID-19, have recovered from COVID, or present a negative COVID test result from within 72 hours of travel to Italy.
Delta is flying daily to Milan from JFK, and it’s offering new service to Rome from Boston beginning August 5 and will begin daily service from JFK on July 1 (up from three times a week).
Emirates, which services Milan as an intermediary point on some of its Dubai–New York flights four times a week, is offering its trademark premium service. Coach fares on the route start at $599.
And there’s a new carrier in the market—Italian budget startup Neos will begin twice-weekly flights between JFK and Milan on June 27, making that particular route one of the more crowded this season.
Flights to Spain and Portugal
After Spain began admitting U.S. visitors on June 7, American, Delta, and United said they were all rebooting their flights to Barcelona and Madrid. Flag carrier Iberia, part of the International Airlines Group (an airline conglomerate that also includes British Airways), has resumed flights to some U.S. gateways, including flights to Barcelona on its low-fare offshoot, Level.
Flights to Lisbon and Porto, the main gateways in Portugal, are as much as 50 percent off when compared to pre-COVID airfares. Delta is resuming four times a week service from JFK to Lisbon on August 1. TAP Air Portugal says it will operate again from all six of its U.S. gateway cities this summer: Newark; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Chicago; Miami; and San Francisco.
Flights to the United Kingdom
As of press time, U.S. visitors to the U.K. were still subject to rigid COVID testing requirements. So, despite the availability of flights on most major American and British carriers, tourism to the U.K. has yet to bounce back. Aer Lingus, for example, has postponed the start of its new service from Manchester to New York and Orlando from July 29 to September 30. Still, there’s some excitement being generated by the news that JetBlue Airways will launch its first transatlantic flights from JFK to London Heathrow on August 11, followed by service to Gatwick Airport on September 29, with a long-range narrowbody Airbus A321 equipped with an expanded Mint business-class cabin. Coach fares start at $599 roundtrip, Mint at $1,968.
Flights to Greece and Croatia
Like Iceland, Greece got a jump on the competition, kickstarting tourism from the U.S. in mid-May, when it began welcoming back American leisure travelers. United ramped up flights to Athens from its Newark hub earlier this month and plans to add seasonal service from Washington, D.C. starting in July. American, meanwhile, moved up the start of its flights from Philadelphia to the Greek capital, originally set for next year, to mid-August.
Croatia is also a hot destination for Americans this year, with United starting up nonstop service from Newark to Dubrovnik on July 1.
Emirates is offering daily flights between Newark and Athens as well.
Flights to Belgium, Germany, Switzerland
Lufthansa, which had slashed transatlantic service during the pandemic, is ramping up operations over the Atlantic following the news that Germany is now open to U.S. travelers. The carrier has restored flights to Frankfurt from Atlanta, Detroit, and Orlando, to Munich from JFK and Boston, and, as of early July, from Charlotte. Partner airline Swiss is restarting Los Angeles–Zurich service on July 2, and Brussels Airlines recently resumed flights to its namesake city in Belgium from New York and Washington, D.C.
How long will lower fares to Europe last?
The bottom line is those willing to be among the first to head to Europe as it reopens to U.S. travelers will likely benefit from below-average airfares this summer. But don’t expect this advantageous pricing environment to last much beyond this year; experts say that if (and when) business travel returns to normal, higher fares are sure to follow.