Airlines that are seeing ‘fairly good discussions’ over the holiday season hope that Omicron will not be a key in the works.
An emerging recovery in international travel demand in the Asia-Pacific has been reversed by the coronavirus’ Omicron variant as governments tighten rules, but airline bosses say they hope any backward movements will be short-lived.
International passenger traffic in Asia-Pacific was at just 5.4 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in October, the lowest of any region worldwide, but some border rules were relaxed in November in Australia, Japan, Thailand, Singapore before the Omicron variant’s discovery late in the month.
“We have seen accelerated openings to Omicron,” Campbell Wilson, chief executive of Singapore Airlines’ budget entourage Scoot, said at a CAPA Center for Aviation event on Tuesday.
“We’ve basically seen a break since then,” he said. “We did not see many retrograde steps, although there were a few exceptions.”
Airlines have blamed a patchwork of travel rules for suppressed international travel demand, which is critical to their return to profit, and Omicron seems to be exacerbating the problem.
Japan has prohibit foreigners, the United States requires a COVID-19 test 24 hours before flight and travelers to Singapore must now be tested daily for seven days after arrival.
“A fly in the ointment”?
The appearance of the Omicron variant follows a downturn in travel after the Delta tribe originated in India and spread worldwide, but vaccination rates have since risen and health experts have determined whether the new mutation causes as serious diseases as other variants.
“We have not yet figured out whether it’s a key in the works or a fly in the ointment,” Subhas Menon, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, told Omicron. “From what we see now, it looks more like a fly in the ointment it is still good to use. ”
Traveler confidence tends to be closely linked to government announcements, said Sue Carter, head of APAC at booking technology firm Travelport. “We’ve seen some searches go down week after week,” she said. Omicron also leads to scheduling headaches for airlines trying to adapt to changing requirements. In Australia, travelers who have been fully vaccinated to Sydney and Melbourne have to isolate for 72 hours after arriving at their home or hotel due to the Omicron variant.
That compares with an earlier policy of no isolation, which led to Hawaiian Airlines adding five weekly Honolulu-Sydney flights from this month, rather than an initial plan for three, CEO Peter Ingram said.
“I’ll tell you the planes are not going to be full in the very early days,” he said of the route. “But we see pretty good discussions about the holiday period until January. So we think it’s going to recover. ”
Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas Airways, said his hope was that the requirement of 72-hour isolation would be known again about Omicron.