Travel to Europe Was Flat in September; New Airlift Next Year May Help

The latest Trans-Atlantic report is out for Spetember, with some interesting revelations about US travel to Europe. While the numbers were largely flat, expanded service next year seems poised to offer a boost to several countries.

Overall trans-Atlantic traffic was flat in September, a pattern which held for the entire peak season. The leading carriers reported an average increase of only 0.4 percent for the second consecutive month, while average capacity was down 0.9 percent. 

The average load factor was 87.4. Through the peak months (May—September), the leading carriers’ average load factor was up a mean 0.9 percent for each of the five months compared to 2011, with the high at 89.9 in July, up 2.2 points from July 2011. 

Despite their tight control on capacity and resulting higher load factors, U.S. carriers are reporting overall declines in yields on trans-Atlantic routes for the first time since November 2009. 

The decline in trans-Atlantic yields may indicate that carriers have reached the maximum fares that can still fill planes. The combined trans-Atlantic yield for U.S. carriers was down 0.5 percent in July and 1.7 percent in August (and was at 0.0 in September), according to Airlines for America. For the immediate future, maintaining trans-Atlantic profits will depend on baggage fees and other ancillary charges. Over the longer term, pressure may grow to add flights and capacity.

The three joint-venture groups that now dominate trans-Atlantic skies (Delta–Air France/KLM/Alitalia, United–Lufthansa/Swiss/Austrian and American–British Airways/Iberia) have been quite successful in managing capacity and fares.

Delta plans to expand service next summer from the U.S. to Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport. New service will begin from Newark in June; daily summer service will begin from Boston (in addition to two flights now operated by joint-venture partner Air France); an additional daily flight will be added from Atlanta (raising the combined Delta-Air France flights to four); and the seasonal flight from Detroit will be expanded to year-round service. Reductions in service on other routes will limit the impact on overall trans-Atlantic capacity, which Delta has shrunk this year (by 3.8 percent through September). As a result, Delta and Air France will fly to Paris from a total of 11 U.S. gateways.

Delta says the new service will be coordinated with the reorganization of Air France terminals at de Gaulle. Terminal 2E now handles all international flights of Air France and its SkyTeam partners (including Delta) EXCEPT those to Schengen countries in Europe. Terminal 2F handles Air France and SkyTeam flights to Schengen destinations (which require no passport check). Terminal 2G accommodates regional carriers (like Air France subsidiaries Brit Air and Régional, and partner Airlinair).

United will begin service from Chicago to Shannon on June 6 with five flights weekly on Boeing 757 planes (169 seats). United will also add a third daily flight from Houston to Heathrow on March 30.