Where can you fly right now? Americans jet south to Caribbean beaches

Travellers are looking for destinations without quarantine or Covid requirements

American travellers are booking getaways they can easily fly into and out of. Reuters
American travellers are booking getaways they can easily fly into and out of. Reuters

The US is leading a slow revival in overseas air travel as people jump at the chance to fly to destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean without quarantines or other Covid-related restrictions.

New York to Santo Domingo and Santiago de los Caballeros, the two biggest cities in the Dominican Republic, are among the world’s busiest overseas routes this year, aviation analytics company Cirium says.

Neither made the top 10 before the pandemic. Orlando to San Juan in the US territory of Puerto Rico sits at second-busiest overall, behind Moscow to Simferopol in the disputed Crimea region.

Seven of the 10 most active international city pairs feature the US, suggesting one of the world’s most advanced inoculation programmes is freeing demand that has been building for a year.

The US domestic market, unfettered by border restrictions, should return to almost normal levels by July, travel data provider OAG says.

While US President Joe Biden has not lifted entry restrictions on visitors, Americans are going to places to which they can easily fly, such as Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands, and where they do not necessarily need a passport, although a negative Covid-19 test is required.

The Dominican Republic opened to tourists in July and offers US travellers tests in hotels before they return home. It has dropped a requirement for a negative test result on arrival.

Mexico is open to quarantine-free air travel from the US and does not require a negative test, although visitors need one to return home after trips to popular holiday spots such as Cancun.

While the test requirement threatened to hurt bookings, discount airline Volaris responded by subsidising the extra cost.

The move helped to sustain a surge that has led the airline to become Mexico's biggest during the crisis, with capacity levels exceeding pre-pandemic levels in December.

Globally, air travel is recovering in fits and starts as vaccine drives progress at different paces and governments tighten border rules to address flare-ups.

Overall capacity edged ahead this week but still hovers at around 57 per cent of 2019 levels, based on Bloomberg’s weekly flight tracker.

While the US and Western Europe make plans for summer reopenings, countries are cutting ties with India.

Australia barred even its own citizens from returning home from the stricken nation.

Quarantine-free travel bubbles are regarded as a way to pry open links, but they have also proved fragile.

Hong Kong and Singapore now have a May 26 start date after earlier delays, although a growing coronavirus cluster in Singapore poses a new threat.

The paucity of international flights has inevitably concentrated demand on the relatively few places that are open.

Many of the most popular Latin American routes out of the US have more flights now than in 2019.

With major international markets still closed, overseas travel will be dominated by short flights “for some time", said John Grant, chief analyst at OAG.

Airlines in Western Europe have added flights to warmer destinations such as Greece and Cyprus, as governments ease lockdowns with summer approaching.

Capacity to Greece has jumped by almost 50 per cent in the past four weeks, as it forms bubbles with countries that have had strong vaccine programmes and are considered to be safe.

There were week-to-week capacity gains of 10 per cent or more in Spain, Italy and Germany, OAG says, where vaccine drives are gaining pace.

The UK has plans to reopen leisure travel in mid-May, with a green list of least restricted countries likely to include Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Iceland, along with some Caribbean destinations, the head of London’s Heathrow airport says.

The plan will be announced on Friday with a handful of locations in the top tier of the "traffic-light" system.

Like Greece and Cyprus, Russia and Ukraine have also had increases as they loosen rules and try to attract tourists.

Russia and Ukraine have recovered almost 90 per cent and 80 per cent of 2019 capacity, respectively.

Others, such as Kazakhstan and Iran, are also close to 2019 levels.

Ukrainian charter and commercial-flight operator SkyUp Airlines has expanded its network to Belgrade in Serbia, Almaty in Kazakhstan and the Georgian Black Sea resort of Batumi.

But there is a long way to go.

The top 10 international routes before the pandemic, such as London to Amsterdam, have disappeared from the rankings.

The busiest routes globally are all domestic connections, primarily in Asia, Cirium says.

They include the world’s most-flown route, between Seoul and the South Korean holiday island of Jeju. Even there, the volume of flights has dropped 20 per cent.

In Australia and New Zealand, a new travel bubble has helped to boost traffic at Qantas Airways and Air New Zealand.

Virgin Australia Airlines, in the hands of private equity after a battle with insolvency, and Regional Express Holdings have also experienced a domestic travel boom.

A Hong Kong-Singapore bubble, originally planned to open last November, could also release pent-up demand.

While cases remain low in both Asian financial centres, each has taken an extremely cautious approach to opening its borders.

If their air link comes to pass, it would show momentum can build even in places with the tightest controls on entry.

Published: May 7, 2021 04:00 AM

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