The Quest For Transatlantic Flights: What 2021 Holds

US to UK access – vital in the recovery – remains a stumbling block in the recovery. The market had 22 million passengers in 2019, yet there will be 54,000 fewer non-stop flights between now and December. And time is ticking. May 17th, when international leisure trips will no longer be illegal from the UK, is fast approaching. So too is the all-important peak summer.

The Quest For Transatlantic Flights: What 2021 Holds
American Airlines has 11 routes planned between the US and UK across the rest of this year. These include Philadelphia-Heathrow, which increases to twice-daily from August 17th. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

From May 17th, a traffic light system will apply to arrivals into the UK. It’ll define whether or not quarantining will be required and overall appeal and accessibility. Those arriving from green countries don’t need to quarantine, but many in the industry consider the lack of countries on the list to overly cautious.

The peak summer season, when airlines ordinarily make the most money, is also not far away. This period is absolutely vital in helping them through the much tougher winter. As airlines benefit from the summer, so do airports.

The Quest For Transatlantic Flights: What 2021 Holds
Air New Zealand ended its very long-standing Auckland-Los Angeles-Heathrow service in 2020. The carrier won’t be resuming London. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

US-UK travel is “low risk”

Now, the Chief Executives of both London Heathrow and Philadelphia have voiced their discontent about the lack of progress over restrictions on US-UK travel. The US will be on the UK’s amber list from May 17th, meaning quarantining will be required on arrival. This is despite both countries now being considered “low risk”, according to Heathrow’s CEO.

Indeed, recovery cannot really happen until transatlantic services properly happen once again. In a letter to both Joe Biden and Boris Johnson, the CEOs said:

 “We urge both the U.S. and U.K. governments to take the decisive and necessary action to reopen US to UK air travel – safely, securely and simultaneously  ahead of the G7 summit in June.”

The Quest For Transatlantic Flights: What 2021 Holds
British Airways has about 17,000 fewer US flights for the rest of this year. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

A market of 22 million

The overall US-UK market had 22.2 million round-trip passengers in 2019, the UK’s CAA shows. In pandemic-hit 2020, that reduced by 82% to just under four million, vividly demonstrating the extent of the rebuilding that is required. These figures include those who connected within and beyond the US and UK.

The US to the UK is obviously the largest transatlantic market. It grew strongly between 2010 and 2019, with passenger volume up by 40% with some 6.4 million extra passengers. The year 2018 is insightful, with almost 1.5 million additional passengers carried year-on-year. While Heathrow added 679,000, multiple UK airports grew.

Gatwick benefited from 805,000 more passengers. This was from Norwegian’s then fast-growing service, along with decent expansion by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Stansted rose too because of Primera’s low-cost service to Boston, Newark, and Washington Dulles. By 2019, rationalization had set in, with grow of ‘just’ 580,000 passengers.

The Quest For Transatlantic Flights: What 2021 Holds
Between 2010-2019, the US-UK market added an average of 707,000 passengers a year. Source: UK CAA.

48 US-UK routes this year

Between this May and December, 48 routes are scheduled to operate between the UK and the US, analyzing data supplied by airlines to OAG reveals, down from 80 in the same period in pre-pandemic 2019. These include Singapore-Manchester-Houston, on which Singapore Airlines has fifth-freedom traffic rights.

The Quest For Transatlantic Flights: What 2021 Holds
United Airlines has the biggest drop of US-UK flights. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Now, there will be eight airlines offering non-stop service, as shown below, down from 11. Aer Lingus is set to begin Manchester to New York JFK and Orlando, the reasons for which Simple Flying explored previously. The launch of Aer Lingus this July helps to offset the end of US-UK services by Air New Zealand, Jet2, Norwegian, and Thomas Cook.

There are due to be almost 43,000 two-way flights in the remainder of this year, down from over 97,000. Despite planning 17,000 US services, British Airways remains top, with a 38% share of flights. United Airlines is the most affected, down as it is by 60%.

 Estimated two-way non-stop flightsNumber of routesTop route by flights
British Airways16,45928Heathrow-JFK
Virgin Atlantic8,40014Heathrow-JFK
American Airlines7,92411Heathrow-JFK
United Airlines5,6948Heathrow-Newark
Delta Air Lines3,2038Heathrow-JFK
TUI Airways6908Manchester-Orlando Sanford
Aer Lingus5082Manchester-JFK
Singapore Airlines2621Manchester-Houston