United CEO sees vaccines essential for rebound in long-haul travel – Skift
United Airlines is eager for long-haul international travel to return, the segment being critical to its return to profitability after the dark days of the coronavirus pandemic.
But if Americans want to relax on Greek beaches or see the Eiffel Tower this summer, Chicago-based carrier CEO Scott Kirby says they’ll likely need a Covid-19 vaccine.
“For all those who wish to travel long distances, go to Europe this summer or to New Zealand or Australia [during] North American winter, I think you’re going to have to get vaccinated, ”United CEO Scott Kirby said at a Washington Post Live event Thursday.
Nearly 55% of Americans aged 18 and over had received at least one injection of a Covid-19 vaccine as of Thursday, according to data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, only 26% of EU citizens over 18 had received a photo, according to data from the bloc.
And at United, Kirby said between 50 and 60 percent of staff are now vaccinated.
Kirby’s rationale that travelers will need vaccines is based on firm logic. The first European countries to reopen to American visitors, including Croatia, Iceland and Greece, all require proof of travelers’ vaccinations. And just this week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU was considering reopening to vaccinated Americans this summer. Similar rules are expected for the US-UK travel corridor.
Earlier in April, United unveiled plans for new non-stop flights to Croatia, Iceland and Greece this summer. And, despite concerns about the hesitation over vaccines in the United States, reservations for the new flights are “through the roof,” Kirby said.
Beyond these selected countries, Kirby said the news of the reopening of the EU and possibly the UK to vaccinated Americans this summer is “encouraging.” His comment echoes those of Lufthansa Group CEO Carsten Spohr, whose airlines are United partners and heavily dependent on transatlantic travelers, also on Thursday.
United need 65% of business travel and long-haul international travel to resume before they can return to profitability. The two were the mainstays of its pre-crisis business with US domestic leisure travel – the only segment that has recovered significantly to date – accounting for only about a third of the airline’s revenue. United expect business travelers to start returning in earnest from September.
In other words, the revival of leisure this summer is unlikely to turn the wave of red ink into black in United’s financials.
“It’s an open question, towards the end of this year or early next year is my best guess,” Kirby said when asked when United could make a next profit.
That’s not to say the airline is lacking in optimism for the summer. United plans to fly around 55% of its 2019 passenger capacity in the second quarter. According to Cirium hourly data, this is strongly shared in favor of domestic where 64% will fly against only 36% internationally. Schedules for the rest of the summer, including July and August, are not yet finalized.
In addition, United will have more opportunities to generate income this summer than in recent months. The airline is reinstalling six seats on each of its 190 Embraer E175 jets – the most common aircraft in the United Express fleet – after scrapping them last year and launching more than 20 new seasonal routes for vacationers to the United Express. beach.
Kirby, for his part, is personally positive about reopening Europe to vaccinated Americans. He already intends to take his family there this summer, he said.