Airline execs share bullish outlook on Asia-U.S. travel

Ongoing tight travel restrictions in many Asia-Pacific countries have muted the impact of the U.S. border reopening on the transpacific travel corridor. 

But a trio of airline executives who participated in a CAPA Centre for Aviation panel this week are bullish about the medium- and long-term outlook for reconnecting Asia and the U.S.

“The demand will come back,” said Brett Catlin, vice president of network and alliances at Alaska Airlines. 

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Speaking during the CAPA Live panel on Wednesday, Catlin noted the robust improvements in travel from the Europe market now that the U.S. is once again welcoming Europeans tourists. 

“I am confident that once Asia reopens we’ll see a similar dynamic,” he said. 

Singapore, India, Cambodia and Thailand are among the Asia-Pacific countries that are taking significant steps toward normalizing international travel. But most of the region continues to impose quarantines and various forms of travel bans. 

As a result, connectivity between the U.S. and Asia remains low. United, for example, plans to fly just 28% of its pre-pandemic Asia-Pacific schedule in December, said Walter Dias, the company’s director for China, Korea and Southeast Asia sales. And even that size schedule is highly reliant on cargo revenue. 

Alaska doesn’t fly to Asia. But the carrier codeshares with American, and its home base of Seattle is a major transpacific business hub. 

Catlin said he is optimistic that American will launch planned routes from Seattle to Shanghai and Bangalore, India, during the second half of next year, but the decisions will depend upon restrictions. 

Akihide Yoguchi, Japan Airlines’ vice president of strategy research for the Asia and Oceania regions, said that the prospects of a recovery would be helped if governments would align their rules. He said representatives of the Asian aviation industry need to make their voices heard on that issue.

Dias pointed to Singapore’s Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) program as a positive example in the region. Under the program, vaccinated foreigners can enter the city-state without quarantining when they arrive on designated VTL flights. 

“We’re hoping that some of the other governments in the region will look to that model to kind of work with the industry to reopen the air flights,” he said. 

Dias predicted that international business traffic will reach full recovery in the next three to five years.

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