Any worries about whether Americans would come back to the skies have now been mostly squashed. As the world opens up, Americans get their shots, and the summer holiday season rolls around, passenger numbers are going up. A case in point includes June 6th, which set a pandemic-era record and beat out Memorial Day. The non-holiday travel number spells great news ahead for US airlines and is indicative of the continued strength of summer leisure travel this season.
June 6th sets a pandemic-era record
Nowadays, pandemic-era records are being set a little more frequently as the airline recovery continues. On Sunday, June 6th, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recorded 1,984,658 passengers passing through a security checkpoint. This beat the previous record of 1,959,593 passengers set just over a week before.
Even though it was only about 25,000 more passengers, the date of the passenger numbers is one to be noted. Sunday, June 6th, did not fall along a holiday weekend. This makes the record all the more telling and important.
Americans want to travel this summer
June 6th was just an inch away, so to speak, from the two million passengers in a day mark. While it was still only about 74% of the 2.67 million passengers the TSA saw on the same weekday in 2019, the first Sunday in June is setting an optimistic tone for the rest of the summer.
Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of the summer season in the United States. However, Memorial Day is not typically the busiest day in American aviation. Generally, a date in late July takes that spot.
Late July does not have any federal holidays in the United States, but it is the middle of the summer season. July is the one month when nearly all schools in the United States are closed, and warm weather across the country leads leisure travelers to pack their bags and head out on vacation. Without needing to worry about kids missing classes or needing to get caught up on homework, families are more willing to take that trip to Disneyland.
The US will hit two million travelers in a day this summer
It seems almost inevitable, but the United States is very likely to hit two million passengers in a day this summer. Based on current trends, it will probably be several weekend days and perhaps become consistent around the weekends in July and August.
Along with the structural factor of Americans heading out on vacation with schools out, more destinations are also starting to open up. Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Denmark, Iceland, and Greece have already opened up (or are expected to open up in the next few days) for Americans. Joining this list later this summer is Ireland in July. The United Kingdom may also open up this summer, though it would be wise not to place any bets on the UK.
All in all, with more destinations opening up for Americans and the summer holiday season continuing to dawn, airlines are in for a much better summer 2021 than 2019. According to most major airlines, leisure travel bookings are coming back, and yields are starting to exceed 2019-levels.
Coupled with continuing reopenings across the United States and the potential for Hawaii to welcome even more passengers with fewer restrictions later this summer, the factors are conspiring to get the US to over two million passengers in a day. All eyes will point to the remaining Fridays and Sundays in June and the 4th of July holiday.
Are you planning summer travel in the US? Let us know in the comments!
American Airlines Marks 40 Years At Dallas Fort Worth Hub
Friday marked 40 years for American Airlines at its Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) hub. While the airline had served the airport for years before, 1981 marked its first designation as a “hub.” Since then, American’s presence at DFW has exploded as it became the US’s largest airline and Dallas its biggest hub.
According to Dallas News, American’s Vice president of Dallas-Fort Worth operations, Jim Moses, wrote a memo to employees last Friday to mark the anniversary. In June 1981, American launched 11 new services out of DFW, officially designating the airport as one of its “network hubs” and kicking off an era of rapid expansion.
At the time, DFW was home to several major airlines. This included Delta, Continental, Braniff, and Northwest. American was also at the airport and had a presence since the 1930s, but was by no means a leader there. However, this began to change in 1979, when American Airlines moved its headquarters from New York City to Fort Worth.
In 1981, American grew its daily flights from Dallas from 128 to 218 per day, increasing the destinations served from 47 to 59. The airline added destinations like Austin, Lubbock, Orlando, and Portland during its first expansion. However, things did not stop there and American continued to expand as other airlines left or went out of business.
Today, American Airlines is operating an impressive 870 daily flights out of Dallas-Fort Worth, a massive expansion. Now, the carrier accounts for 88% of passengers arriving or transiting through DFW. Competitors like Delta and United have significantly scaled back their presence as American doubled down.
American’s presence has also helped to attract other oneworld partners. British Airways, Korean Air, Qantas, and Japan Airlines all have direct flights to DFW. This has been a huge boost for the airport, which saw record-breaking traffic of 75 million passengers in 2019, up 25% from just two decades ago.
As the pandemic hit, Dallas continued to play a critical role for American as load factors fell and direct connections were cut. As the airline emerges from the pandemic, it is quickly scheduling new routes to countries as far away as New Zealand and closer domestic cities. Indeed, the airlines has confirmed that the DFW hub will be key to remaining competitive in the future as well.
One reason for American’s continued success in Dallas-Fort Worth has been the sheer size of the airport. With 27 square miles of land, the hub has been able to host new terminals, maintenance hangars, and other important facilities.
American was also planning a new terminal at DFW, known as Terminal F. However, the pandemic has paused plans for the expensive project. However, expect to see the airlines continue growing its presence as it emerges from its worst year on record.
Have you transited through DFW with American? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
KLM CEO Sees More Efficient Planes as the Fastest Way to Hit Climate Goals
After a steady drumbeat of rising aviation emissions — and a growing public backlash — carbon output plummeted dramatically in 2020. European aviation authority Eurocontrol estimated that the industry’s emissions fell 57 percent year-over-year. But the drop came with a price: the coronavirus pandemic took a steep economic and human toll on the continent, claiming lives and closing businesses.
Now, with the travel recovery seemingly at hand, airlines are renewing their efforts to meet industry targets for net zero emissions by 2050. But it’s more than that; where sustainability was oft a final, frequently forgotten bullet in many earnings calls before the crisis, they are now key talking points — both of airline management and investors.
KLM is one airline that has pushed ahead with its sustainability initiatives, pandemic or not. The carrier flew the first synthetic kerosene demonstration flight ever between Amsterdam and Madrid in February, an event that went off without a hitch CEO Peter Elbers said in a recent interview. But with just 500 liters of synthetic kerosene used, it was just a drop in the bucket on a plane that can carry as much as 26,000 liters of fuel.
“It’s impossible today to replace 100 percent of fuel by 100 percent, or even 50 percent, of biofuel,” said Elbers.
Synthetic aviation fuels are all the buzz in airline circles. Numerous airlines have made public commitments or flown similar demonstration flights like KLM. However, most projects face high implementation costs — prompting a push in many places for government support — and, for biofuels, issues finding scalable feedstock supplies.
“We should be ambitious but also realistic at the same time about what we can do,” said Elbers.
In addition to sustainable aviation fuel, KLM is looking at fleet renewal and shifting short-haul flights to trains where possible as part of what Elbers called a “cluster” of climate initiatives. The carrier aims to cut its 2005 emissions per passenger in half by 2030 after achieving a roughly 30 percent reduction by the end of 2019. And parent Air France-KLM has joined other airlines in a broad pledge to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Lowering Emissions with New Aircraft
“Fleet renewal is the quickest, most feasible thing to do,” said Elbers when asked how KLM aims to meet its targets.
The pandemic allowed KLM to speed up efficiency improvements across its fleet. The airline retired its last Boeing 747 early last October in what was a sad day too many aviation enthusiasts but also an important move to reduce fuel burn. The jumbo jets were KLM’s last passenger aircraft with four engines, allowing it to move entirely to more efficient twin-jets like the Boeing 787 on long-haul routes.
This move was not lost on group management with Air France-KLM Chief Financial Officer Frederick Gagey highlighting it during an earnings call in February. “Basically all the aircraft with four engines, have now left the group fleet,” he said.
Renewal is also about adding new, more efficient jets. KLM took delivery of its first re-engined Embraer E195-E2 in February. The jets burn nearly 10 percent less fuel than the E190s they replace and, with 32 more seats, emit nearly a third less carbon per passenger. KLM has 25 of the aircraft on order.
The airline has also restarted its analysis of the Airbus A320neo and Boeing 737 Max families for a possible order, said Elbers. Both jets would further reduce the fuel burn and carbon emissions of KLM’s fleet in the future.
Limited Shift to Trains
Shifting flights to trains is one area where airlines, at least in Europe, have made some some visible strides during the pandemic. Air France dropped domestic flights between Paris Orly and Bordeaux, Lyon and Nantes in favor of the country’s TGV high-speed trains as a condition to of its Covid-19 relief package in 2020. And pending climate legislation could see at least three more routes suspended in a similar fashion.
KLM, with no domestic network to speak of, does not face the possibility of a similar government edict. But that does not mean it is not looking for opportunities to put passengers on trains. Early last year just before the pandemic, the airline replaced one of its then-five daily Amsterdam-Brussels flights with a connection to a train operated by Thalys.
“Other than Brussels, it will remain very challenging by the simple fact that it will cost an enormous amount of money” to build the necessary rail infrastructure, said Elbers. He cited London, which is a roughly 3-3.5 hour train ride from Amsterdam, as somewhere that train connections could work but that Berlin, which is an 8 hour train trip despite being only 130 miles farther than Heathrow from Schiphol, where they could not.
“I really wouldn’t see on a large scale the ability to replace [flights],” he said.
Europe On The Verge
All of KLM’s sustainability initiatives come amid the historic slowdown in travel during the pandemic. The carrier was hit hard when each EU member state was allowed to set its own border rules to keep the Covid-19 in check, thus making what was supposed to be a single airline market into a morass of 27 different travel regimes. KLM lacks a domestic market and relies on the EU bloc to feed its Amsterdam hub.
The SkyTeam Alliance carrier did its best to maintain connectivity across its vast network even when demand was at historic lows. At the end of last year and before the last round of Covid-19 lockdowns in Europe, KLM was flying roughly 90 percent of its route map with only about 50 percent of its pre-crisis capacity.
“[Now], I’d say we’re at the verge of a more structural recovery rather than another bump,” said Elbers. “I’m not a doctor, I’m not a specialist but looking at what we see in other countries, I think — I hope — that we’re on the verge of a more structural recovery.”
Elbers estimated that travel in Europe will rebound roughly three months behind the U.S., which surpassed 2 million daily travelers on June 11 for the first time since March 2020. KLM — like others — has already seen a jump in bookings to markets that have already reopened, including Greece, Portugal and parts of Northern Europe. While its overall European capacity is scheduled to be down nearly 15 percent during the peak summer travel months of July and August compared to 2019, Greece will be up 45 percent and Portugal 22 percent, according to Cirium schedule data.
“It’s important that we get a harmonization of some of the European travel regimes,” Elbers said when asked what was need to further the recovery in Europe. That comment proved prescient, coming days before EU ambassadors agreed to reopen borders to vaccinated travelers. Travel by those without their jabs will be limited based on the level of Covid-19 infections in the country they are coming from.
The recovery in long-haul international travel remains an unknown. When transatlantic travelers return — nearly 27 percent of KLM’s long-haul capacity in 2019 — is a “big question mark,” said Elbers. The airline is part of an expansive transatlantic joint business with Air France, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic Airways.
And as for business travel, Elbers is confident that it will return in some form. What he is not sure of is by how much or what flows will come back.
KLM has slimmed its business to adapt to this uncertain future. At the end of 2020, it had achieved most of the cost cuts that it agreed to in exchange for state relief. Nearly one in six staff members had left the airline as it sought to cut employee full-time equivalents by 6,000. And in the first quarter, costs across Air France-KLM were down more than 45 percent compared to a year earlier.
“There’s going to still be some places in the organization where we have a mismatch between supply and demand,” said Elbers on staffing. “But overall, I think the present organization is adequate for what we need to do and also allows us to [be ready for] the first stage of recovery.”
Photo Credit: KLM is moving forward with its fleet renewal plans even amid the slow European travel recovery. KLM
Korean Air Operates Mammoth 15 Hour Flight To Miami
Korean Air has flown its longest-ever nonstop service last weekend, flying a mammoth 15-hour flight from Seoul to Miami. The cargo-only 777-300ER was carrying 25 tons of COVID-19 testing kits to the Dominican Republic. Let’s find out more about Korean Air’s rare ultra-long-haul flight.
According to Business Korea, the flight took place on Saturday, June 12th. Korean Air flight KE8074 departed Seoul’s Incheon Airport at 21:28 local time, flying over 13,405 kilometers to Miami. Interestingly, despite the length of the journey, the flight only entered the airspace of one other country.
The flight took a fairly straightforward path to the US, flying over Japan before making the long journey over the Pacific. The 777 entered US airspace over the state of Washington at 14:30 local time, leaving only the transcontinental journey to Maimi. The plane cruised at 35,000 feet for nearly all of its mammoth flight.
The flight touched down in Miami International Airport at 22:42 local time, a full 14 hours and 14 minutes after departure. This meant the flight had beaten Korean Air’s longest route from Seoul to Atlanta by almost 25 minutes, which takes 13 hours and 50 minutes.
The aircraft operating this route is a Korean Air Boeing 777-300ER, registered HL8218, and delivered new to the airline in November 2011, according to ch-aviation. While this 9.6-year-old plane is usually ferrying up to 291 passengers, it is currently flying cargo-only missions for Korean. This means most seats have been removed and replaced with more room for freight.
This particular flight was on an important mission of delivering 25 tons of COVID-19 diagnostic kits to the Dominican Republic. From Miami, the aid was transported to another plane for the short flight into the Caribbean.
Miami itself is not a new destination for Korean Air, with the airline flying a cargo route to the city six times a week. However, usually, aircraft make a stop in Anchorage, Alaska, to change crews and refuel. Considering the lighter load on this service, it likely carried a backup crew onboard and had enough fuel to fly nonstop.
On the return leg, the 777 stopped in Miami before making its way back to its hub in Seoul. The aircraft is currently over the Pacific at the time of writing.
For Korean Air, cargo is critical to maintaining its strong financial position. Indeed, the airline has reported four straight quarters of profits now, including the first quarter of 2021 most recently. This is an exceptional feat considering nearly every airline around the world is currently mired in deep losses.
This streak of profitability can be credited to Korean’s bustling cargo business. The carrier has doubled its freight revenue compared to Q1 of 2020, which has ensured relatively strong revenues and a profit. For now, expect Korean Air to continue its cargo-only operations as it compensates for weak passenger demand.
What do you think about Korean Air’s cargo operations? Let us know in the comments!
Wow: Over 15,000 Passengers Fly On South Korean Flights To Nowhere
Flights to nowhere have taken South Korea by storm, with thousands of passengers taking scores of flights since travel restrictions and border closures thwarted more conventional travel plans. With flights to nowhere to continue in South Korea throughout 2021, the already impressive statistics will keep rising.
Over 150 flights to nowhere have flown in South Korea
According to data recently released by the Korea Customs Service, 15,983 passengers have taken a ride on 152 flights to nowhere. Seven South Korean airlines have offered the flights. Whether passengers were keen for the ride or just needed to spend some money, Simple Flying isn’t sure. But between them, those 15,983 passengers spent US$20 million on duty-free shopping. Nearly half, or 7,266 passengers, spent more than $600 on duty-free booze.
Of the seven airlines operating flights to nowhere, Asiana Airlines low-cost subsidiary Air Busan operated the most, with 35 flights. Jeju Air has run 34 flights to nowhere, followed by Jin Air with 33 flights. Trailing but still active in the flights to nowhere space are T’way Air, Air Seoul, Asiana, and Korean Air.
Retail therapy drives the demand for flights to nowhere
These South Korean flights to nowhere are particularly interesting because of their strong focus on duty-free shopping. The South Korean Government allows the flights to happen to help prop up both local airlines and the local duty-free industry. That’s fair enough – airport retailers are frequently among the forgotten amid the travel downturn.
But what was a tightly controlled sideline for airlines and the other players in the industry has exploded in South Korea. The South Korean Government has allowed more airlines and more airports to get involved over the last year. Over that time, the rationale for the flights has also shifted.
While flights to nowhere or scenic flights in many other countries are about recapturing the flying experience, that doesn’t seem to be the case in South Korea. A recent Bloomberg report provides an interesting insight into these flights. Bloomberg detailed a two-hour flight to nowhere on Air Busan.
Global duty-free retailer Lotte organized the flight for 130 of its best customers. Those customers paid nothing for the flight. But they were expected to spend up big on Lotte duty-free. This flight was one of six flights to nowhere organized by Lotte in May alone.
The flights briefly enter Japanese airspace, thus legitimizing duty-free purchases. South Korea’s second-biggest duty-free operator, Hotel Shilla, offered two similar flights in May to its customers. Each of those flights could accommodate 114 passengers.
Flights to nowhere passengers spend up big on duty-free
The Korean Customs Service says that in addition to alcohol, these passengers were spending up big on cosmetics, perfumes, and pricey bags.
“I saw a lot of people with bags full of duty-free items,” one Air Busan duty-free shopper told Bloomberg. This particular shopper left her flight on the low-cost airline armed with a new Chanel handbag – not the type of arm candy you see on your typical low-cost airline passenger. These flights don’t cover the losses incurred by duty-free operators since the travel downturn began, but they do help.
“The contribution from the flights to nowhere is small, but it’s better than having nothing,” an analyst told Bloomberg.
The full-service airlines aren’t above getting their hands dirty mixing flying with retail. Flag carrier Korean Air is among the seven airlines offering flights to nowhere. But unlike the low-cost carriers, Korean Air provides a more refined duty-free flight. Passengers pay from US$142 to $490 (depending on where you prefer to sit) and pick up their pre-ordered duty-free on the way through the airport before boarding one of the short flights out of Seoul’s Incheon International Airport. Still, it’s all about retail therapy. Says one Korean Air passenger;
“A flight to nowhere is a refreshing concept, but honestly, I don’t think I would have booked if there were no duty-free shopping benefits.”
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