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Europe Travel Ban on U.S. Visitors Would Be a Blow to Airlines

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Last year, flights across the Atlantic, to Europe and other destinations, accounted for about 17 percent of passenger revenue for United Airlines, or about $7.4 billion. Such flights generated about 15 percent of all passenger revenue for Delta, or $6.4 billion, and about 11 percent of passenger revenue, or $4.6 billion, for American Airlines. They were particularly important to United and Delta, generating a quarter of passenger profits last year, according to the Transportation Department.

Tens of millions of people flew between the United States and European Union countries in 2019. Many traveled for business to and from cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco and Amsterdam, London, Paris and Frankfurt. Many others fanned out farther to vacation, particularly in the summer, when international flights are often nearly full as American families jet off to Italy and Greece, and Europeans check out New York and California.

Of course, travel between the United States and the European Union has been restricted since March, when governments on both sides of the Atlantic barred most visitors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, with exceptions for repatriations and “essential” travel by medical professionals. At the time, the United States had just over 1,100 coronavirus cases as the virus spread extensively in Italy and Spain. Today, the United States leads the world with about 2.4 million cases, and infections are surging in Arizona, California, Florida, Texas and other states.

Because of the country’s size, the vast majority of tickets sold by U.S. airlines are for domestic travel. Those flights have led the industry’s recovery, as Americans slowly start to visit friends and family and make limited vacation plans, a pattern unfolding in countries around the world. Higher-profit business and international travel is expected to follow far behind.

“I think international travel is probably going to lag domestic by up to 12 months,” Ed Bastian, Delta’s chief executive, told shareholders on a call last week, citing travel bans around the world as one reason.

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