Airlines are offering more U.S.-Europe service than ever — but don’t expect bargains

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A traveller walks in the Terminal 2 corridors of the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport with Air France airplanes in the background, in the northeastern outskirts of Paris, on September 16, 2022, amid a strike of air traffic controllers.
Julien De Rosa | AFP | Getty Images

Flights to Europe will be plentiful this summer. Cheap airfare? Not as much.

Airlines scheduled a near-record 51,000 flights from June through August from the U.S. to Europe, according to airline data firm Cirium. The number of scheduled seats is the highest since 2018.

Despite that increase in capacity across the Atlantic, fares are up sharply as airlines test travelers’ appetites for trips abroad. According to Hopper, U.S.-to-Europe roundtrip flights are going for an average of $1,032, up 35% from last year and 24% from 2019. Average domestic U.S. airfare, by contrast, is down 15% from a year ago to $286 for a round trip, roughly in line with pre-pandemic levels.

Executives at longtime operators of European service like Delta, newcomers like JetBlue, and budget upstarts like Norse Atlantic Airways and Play are all betting big that travelers will shell out for more international trips with the worst of Covid — and accompanying travel restrictions — in the rearview mirror.

Airlines and airports have been racing to fill jobs in hopes of avoiding last summer’s chaos.

“European travel was definitely still ramping up last summer,” said JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes in an interview with CNBC in late March. “I think a lot of people just didn’t fly last year, and now they’re looking to fly this year.”

JetBlue is flying to London’s two largest airports from New York and Boston, and plans to launch service to Paris from New York in June. It plans to add service to Amsterdam this summer.

Delta plans to offer a record number of seats from the U.S. to Europe, up 20% from last summer. The carrier will serve 69 markets in Europe, a spokesman said.

Airlines summer flights to Europe
Cirium

“If you are traveling during those peak summer months, you need to book now,” said Hopper’s lead economist, Hayley Berg.

In order to avoid the highest of the high fares steer clear of national holidays, and fly midweek, she recommended.

Some airline executives have recently noted that travelers are going back to more traditional booking patterns, which drives up fares on peak days. While airlines generally reduce capacity during less popular periods of the week or year, there could still be the chance for some more palatable prices. Airlines’ schedules from late March through the end of October show they will offer record numbers of seats for that period, data from OAG show, a sign that they could be expecting robust demand into the shoulder season.

Berg also recommends staying open-minded about connecting trips and cautions against filtering flights for nonstops only.

Icelandic low-cost airline Play’s flights stop at its home airport of Reykjavik, requiring travelers going on to other destinations to change flights. The carrier has been growing rapidly with its fleet of Airbus A320 and A320neos. It’s serving 39 destinations this month, up from 31 in December, the company said.

“We’re extremely positive and bullish about the year,” said CEO Birgir Jonsson. Nearly 36% of Play’s passengers last month were connecting to other destinations through the Icelandic capital, the airline said.

Other low-cost airlines are ramping up service between the U.S. and Europe, including Norse Atlantic Airways, which operates Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The carrier serves London Gatwick, Berlin, Paris and Oslo, Norway, and plans to launch flights to Rome next month from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. It’s also planning to offer London Gatwick service from a host of U.S. cities including San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. in the coming weeks.

Norse Atlantic’s senior vice president of communications Philip Allport said its fares for U.S.-Europe routes have been higher than usual but that the carrier is still at “the cheaper end of our direct competitors.” A round trip on Norse between New York and Paris was going for close to $1,300 for a trip departing July 1, returning a week later, lower than $1,804 on Delta, each on standard economy tickets.

Here is how traditional and nontraditional airlines vary in their services and prices for standard economy tickets:

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