Sat | Jul 4, 2020

Air travel to reopen with low bookings

Published:Wednesday | June 3, 2020 | 12:09 AM

Several major airlines are taking bookings for flights that will start departing this month, and these initial flights are about one-third filled.

American Airlines, JetBlue and Air Canada plan to restart service in June, but others such as Caribbean Airlines will not offer direct flights on popular routes until about September, based on online checks.

American Airlines, departing flights from John F. Kennedy Airport, JFK, in New York to Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, restart on Friday, June 5, costing US$525.

Of the 204 seats to the flight’s second leg from Charlotte to Montego Bay there were roughly 114 seats that were reserved ahead of last weekend. It’s unclear how many of them were deliberately left unsold to facilitate social distancing of passengers.

The passengers on popular flights are being seated either beside a window or an empty seat, in order to provide physical distance. For now most carriers are expected to limit seat sales to about two-thirds of capacity.

Back in April when it was expected that Jamaica would reopen in May for air travel, a number of airlines appeared to offer deals on initial flights. For instance, flights between JFK and Sangster International started at US$350 but now are above US$450. Prices now appear to be back to near normal levels.

JetBlue restarts June 19 with flights costing US$600 after taxes from its hub at JFK to Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston.

Air Canada resumes June 27 but those flights are sold out until July 3. Some 34 seats of the 68 available seats after accounting for physical distancing were reserved.

Delta from Atlanta to MBJ restarts on July 1 with one-third of the flight’s available seats filled. Those flights cost US$475. A third of the plane’s 200 seats are unavailable for sale to facilitate physical distancing of passengers.

WestJet restarts October 2, with flights priced at US$540 departing from Canada’s largest airport in Pearsons in Toronto to Sangster International. The 120 seats in the aircraft are spaced with two aisles unavailable for physical distancing.

British Airways will restart flying from Heathrow to Kingston on June 3, but through connections with American Airlines, at a cost of about £1,300. There were no direct British Airways flights to Montego Bay in June.

Caribbean Airlines popular outbound flight from Kingston to Fort Lauderdale starts booking after September 1 with prices at US$260 without taxes round trip. All those seats were booked ahead of the weekend.

Since late March, the Jamaican Government has restricted passenger air travel to manage the COVID-19 outbreak. Cargo service, however, continued during this period.

In April, Tara Bradshaw, chief development officer at Trafalgar Travel, told the Financial Gleaner that low passenger load factor was not surprising as confidence needs to re-enter the travel sector for persons to start flying again, and that discounted fares were not enough to overcome health fears.

MBJ Airports Limited, which operates the largest airport in the anglophone Caribbean, Sangster International, did not immediately return calls for comment on what its projections are showing for passenger movements with the phased reopening of the economy and travel market.