Air travel in the Bay Area soars but passengers face bottlenecks

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Air travel at the Bay Area’s three airports has finally started to soar after taking a nose dive during the pandemic, but many obstacles now face travelers looking to get out and about as the dangers of the coronavirus begin to recede.

International airports in San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco have seen a surge in passenger numbers in recent months and airlines are launching new long-haul and domestic routes to entice more people to fly.

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

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 17: Airline passengers rush past a balloon sculpture of a British phone booth at Mineta San Jose International Airport on Friday, June 17, 2022, where British Airways recently announced a new flight non-stop from San Jose to Heathrow to London Airport. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

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

The resumption of nonstop flights between Silicon Valley and London “represents an important milestone in our recovery,” San Jose International aviation director John Aitken said in a statement.

A rebound is also on the way for airports across the United States, according to Brett Snyder, founder and author of the airline industry site Cranky Flier, which has been rising sharply since last summer.

“Across the country, things are booming,” Snyder said. “There is huge demand for domestic travel and nearby international travel – especially in Latin America and Europe.”

International travel has been particularly slow to rebound. But this month, the United States said it would no longer require passengers arriving from a foreign country to present a negative COVID-19 test, easing an earlier restriction.

Even so, air travelers must navigate an inhospitable landscape if they want to fly. Soaring fuel prices, a lack of planes, a shortage of qualified pilots and airlines’ quest to raise ticket prices as they struggle to recover from pandemic-related economic difficulties add to the list of obstacles to air transport.

“Ticket prices are significantly higher now,” said Carmen Silva, a resident of Raleigh, North Carolina, who was traveling to 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.

And while some travelers are tired of being locked down and willing to shell out big bucks to fly, others are staying away, with some would-be passengers still wary of crowded spaces and no mask requirements on flights as the virus continues to spread.

Monthly passenger activity at the Bay Area’s three aviation hubs remains far below what it was before the outbreak of the coronavirus in March 2020, when federal, state and local government agencies imposed travel closures. large-scale businesses and limited travel.

Measured by departing aircraft seats, a metric compiled by Cirium, which tracks aviation trends, it’s clear that the three Bay Area airports are struggling to fully recover from related passenger losses. to COVID.

In June 2022 compared to June 2019, San Francisco airport is down 25.1%, San José down 20.2% and Oakland down 9.5%.

But there are encouraging signs. Passenger levels at all three travel hubs are up from a year ago, according to statistics released by the trio of international airports.

Chart comparing the total number of passengers at Oakland International Airport and Mineta San Jose International Airport since January 2020San Jose International welcomed 972,600 passengers in April, up 108.9% from the same month in 2021. Oakland International welcomed 918,500 passengers in April, up 53.8%. In March, San Francisco International welcomed just over 3.09 million passengers, up 166.9% from March 2021.

Oakland recovers missing passengers faster than airports in San Jose or San Francisco. The East Bay aviation hub relies more on domestic leisure travel, while San Francisco generally relies on transpacific flights, many of which have been halted due to the virus.

“San Jose is more of a business market than a leisure market, and business travel has recovered very slowly,” said Cranky Flier’s Snyder. “San Jose has had a harder time recovering than other markets. It ties into Silicon Valley, which is really a business market.

“Things are more difficult for the San Francisco airport because SFO is a gateway to the Pacific,” Snyder continued. “Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing are still limited. Even South Korea and Japan are only slowly starting to open up.

Yet demand is rising across the region and airlines appear to be responding even as they struggle to rebound. Southwest Airlines, for example, announced that it would introduce nonstop flights between Palm Springs and San Jose starting Nov. 6. In San Francisco, Breeze Airways is offering new flights to San Bernardino; Richmond, Virginia; Charleston, South Carolina; Louisville, Kentucky; and Westchester County in the New York area.

But the news is not so good for consumers. High demand means high ticket prices go nowhere, especially in the summer months when travel is particularly popular.

“There is huge demand based on a limited supply of flights,” Snyder said. “The airlines know the demand is very high, so the prices are going up.”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 17: Airline passengers rush past a balloon sculpture of a British phone booth at Mineta San Jose International Airport on Friday, June 17, 2022, where British Airways recently announced a new flight non-stop from San Jose to London Heathrow Airport.  (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 17: Airline passengers rush past a balloon sculpture of a British phone booth at Mineta San Jose International Airport on Friday, June 17, 2022, where British Airways recently announced a new flight non-stop from San Jose to Heathrow to London Airport. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
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