Air travel rises in the Gulf region but bottlenecks face passengers

Air travel at the three airports in the Gulf region is finally starting to pick up after falling during the pandemic, but many hurdles are now facing travelers seeking to get out as the coronavirus risks begin to recede.

San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco international airports have seen significant increases in passenger travel in recent months, and airlines are launching new long-haul and domestic routes to draw more people into the sky.

British Airways has just resumed non-stop flights between London Heathrow Airport and Mineta San Jose International. ZIPAIR, a new relatively low-cost airline, said it will offer flights between Tokyo-Narita Airport and San Jose in December.

SAN JOSE, CA – JUNE 17: Airlines passengers run past a balloon statue from a British telephone booth at Mineta San Jose International Airport, Friday, June 17, 2022, as British Airways recently announced a new non-stop flight from San Jose to San Jose International Airport. London Heathrow Airport. (Karl Mundon/Bay Area News Group)

In San Francisco, Condor introduces new service to the German region of Frankfurt and Swoop offers service to Edmonton in Canada. In Oakland, Spirit Airlines is introducing new flights to connect East Bay with San Diego and Newark in the New York City area, while Hawaiian Airlines is offering flights to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The resumption of non-stop flights between Silicon Valley and London “marks a significant milestone in our recovery,” John Aitken, director of aviation at San Jose International, said in a statement.

There’s also a rebound underway at airports across the US, according to Brett Snyder, founder and author of airline industry website Cranky Flier, up significantly from last summer.

“Nationally, things are totally booming,” Snyder said. “Demand is huge for domestic travel and close international travel – Latin America and Europe in particular.”

International travel has been particularly slow to recover. But this month, the United States said it would no longer require travelers traveling from a foreign country to show a negative COVID-19 test, easing previous restrictions.

However, air travelers must navigate a restricted area if they want to fly. Skyrocketing fuel costs, aircraft shortages, a shortage of skilled pilots and airlines’ drive to raise ticket prices as they seek to recover from the economic woes associated with the pandemic all add to the list of air travel hurdles.

“Ticket prices are definitely higher now,” said Raleigh, North Carolina resident Carmen Silva, who was visiting San Jose this week to meet her boyfriend. “In March, I paid $380 for a round trip between Raleigh and San Jose. This time I paid $1,000.”

While some travelers are tired of confinement and willing to pay big bucks to fly, others are turning away, some potential passengers remain wary of crowded places and no mask requirements on flights as the virus continues to spread.

Monthly passenger activity at the three aviation hubs in the Gulf region remains well below what it was before the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, when federal, state and local government agencies imposed widespread business shutdowns and limited travel.

By analogy with departing plane seats, a metric compiled by Cirium, which tracks flight trends, it’s clear that all three Bay Area airports are struggling to fully recover from COVID-related passenger losses.

In June 2022 compared to June 2019, San Francisco Airport decreased 25.1%, San Jose 20.2%, and Oakland 9.5%.

But there are encouraging signs. Passenger levels at all three travel hubs are higher than they were a year ago, according to statistics from three international airports.

San Jose International handled 972,600 passengers during April, up 108.9% from the same month in 2021. Oakland International handled 918,500 passengers in April, up 53.8%. In March, San Francisco International handled just over 3.09 million passengers, up 166.9% compared to March 2021.

Oakland recovers passengers who have disappeared more quickly than either San Jose or San Francisco. The East Bay aviation hub relies more on local leisure travel, while San Francisco typically relies on ocean-going flights, many of which have been halted by the virus.

“San Jose is more of a business market than a leisure market, and business travel has been recovering very slowly,” Cranky Flier’s Snyder said. “San Jose has struggled more than other markets to recover. It is connected to Silicon Valley, and it is a really business market.”

“Things are more difficult for San Francisco because San Francisco Airport (SFO) is a gateway to the Pacific,” Snyder continued. Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing are still restricted. Even South Korea and Japan are slowly opening up.”

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