A Long Way To Go: Transatlantic Flights Still Down 67% On 2019

Although some recovery has been seen in air travel, international trips are still rather tricky. Currently, the number of flights operating between Europe and North America is down 67% compared to 2019 numbers. Before the COVID-19 pandemic devasted international air travel, transatlantic routes were considered the crown jewels of global aviation.

United Newark Getty
Flights across the North Atlantic are down 67% when compared to 2019. Photo: Getty Images

The Financial Times newspaper estimated that the routes were worth $9 billion a year in revenue before the medical emergency. Established airlines and national flag carriers relied on a steady stream of business customers and frequent flyers prepared to pay a premium to sit in first and business class seats.

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A massive reduction in North Atlantic flights

In a report today by the global leader in aviation and travel data and analytics, Cirium, there has been a massive reduction in the number of flights crossing the Atlantic. Data reveals that North Atlantic air travel between January 1, 2021 and September 1, 2021, is down 67% compared to the same period in 2019.

Cirium data analysis reveals that, in 2019, 130,727 flights (36.4 million seats) operated between North America and Europe. For the same period in 2021, this number dropped to 42,677 flights (12 million seats), a reduction of 67%.

Aer Lingus saw the biggest decline

Of the top 20 airlines flying routes over the North Atlantic, Irish national flag carrier Aer Lingus saw the most significant decline in flights. Aer Lingus saw a 79% drop in its number of transatlantic flights, closely followed by British Airways with a decrease of 78%.

British Airways 777
British Airways saw a 78% decline in the number of its flights to North America. Photo: Getty Images

Between January 1 and 2019 and September 1, 2019, the market share on seats sold on flights between North America is as follows:

  • Delta Air Lines sold over 4 million seats for an 11% market share
  • United Airlines sold over 3.6 million seats for a 10% market share
  • British Airways sold over 3.6 million seats for a 10% market share
  • American Airlines sold around 3.3 million seats for a 9% market share
  • Lufthansa sold over 2.7 million seats for a 7% market share

During January 1, 2021, and September 1, 2021, the airlines with the highest market share based on seats sold between North America and Europe is as follows:

  • United Airlines sold around 1.5 million seats for a 12% market share
  • Delta Air Lined sold around 1.3 million seats for an 11% market share
  • American Airlines sold over 1.2 million seats for a 10% market share
  • Lufthansa sold over 800,000 seats for a 7% market share
  • British Airways sold over 800,000 seats for a 7% market share

Alitalia, Air Canada Rouge, Air Transat plus Norweigan and Norweigan Air UK fell from the top 20 in 2021. However, Aeroflot, Austrian Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, TAP Portugal and TUI UK entered the table of top 20 transatlantic carriers.

The USA is still closed to European visitors

One of the reasons behind the significant decline in flights was that American travelers needed to quarantine for 14 days after they arrived in Europe. In late May, the European Union and the United Kingdom removed the quarantine restrictions allowing Americans to visit.

Unfortunately, the United States government has not been reciprocal with EU citizens and those flying on British passports, preferring to keep its borders closed to non-US citizens. This does not apply to permanent residents who reside in the United States.

JFK Airport terminal
The USA is still closed to European visitors. Photo: Getty Images

Once the United States reopens its borders to visitors, the amount of air traffic crossing the North Atlantic should pick up and is something that new entrants, JetBlue, and Norse are betting on. Aer Lingus is also betting on the North Atlantic as it prepares to fly narrowbody Airbus A321LRs on new routes to the United States from Manchester.

As more of the world becomes vaccinated, air travel should bounce back, but the impact COVID-19 has had on business travel remains to be seen.

Are you surprised by the decline in the number of transatlantic flights or is the Cirium data more or less what you expected given the current situation? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments.