UPDATE 2-Omicron rolls back hopes of recovery in airline industry

* The opening of borders had accelerated before the discovery of Omicron

* Some booking searches are dropping week by week – Travelport

* American Airlines says new COVID-19 variant will delay recovery (adds American Airlines comments, substantive details)

By Jamie Freed, Allison Lampert and Rajesh Kumar Singh

Dec. 7 (Reuters) – New travel restrictions induced by the Omicron coronavirus variant have delayed the nascent resumption of international flights, creating delays and headaches in some areas, according to airline and airline officials. airport.

The wave of new testing rules and border closures raised concerns ahead of the important Christmas travel season, but some airline bosses said they hoped any setbacks would be short-lived.

Global airlines have blamed a patchwork of shifting rules for declining demand for international travel, which is critical for their return to profits after significant losses from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

New American Airlines chief executive Robert Isom told Reuters the Texas-based carrier’s return to profitability depends on a large-scale recovery in travel demand. American has the largest stock of debt in the US airline industry.

“If there is anything (in the way), it only delays recovery,” he said.

He said the airline’s domestic business remained strong, but new travel restrictions had dampened demand in some international markets.

Airlines shares gained ground after a massive selloff last week. As investors rejoice at anecdotal evidence that suggests the new variant may not be as deadly as originally feared, it could take weeks or even months to know its effect on the course of the pandemic. .

United Nations aviation and tourism agencies pleaded on Tuesday that travel restrictions in response to new variants of the coronavirus be imposed only as a last resort.

Japan has banned foreigners, the United States requires a 24-hour COVID-19 test before flying, and travelers to Singapore must now be tested daily for seven days after arriving.

“We were seeing an acceleration of openings up to Omicron,” said Campbell Wilson, managing director of Scoot, a budget subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, at an event in Sydney hosted by market intelligence firm CAPA Center for Aviation.

“We’ve basically seen a hiatus since then,” Wilson added.

Airlines and travel agencies are hoping that rising vaccination rates and new drugs will make a difference.

“It’s not spring 2020,” said Glenn Fogel, managing director of Booking Holdings Inc. “Absolutely not.”

But Sue Carter, head of Asia-Pacific at booking technology firm Travelport, said she saw some research drop week after week, adding that travelers’ confidence tended to be closely tied to government announcements.

EVER-CHANGING RULES CAUSE CONFUSION

A spokesperson for the Airports Council International (ACI) World trade group said the global mosaic of travel rules was challenging airport operations and called for better coordination between countries.

At Calgary International Airport, the queue on arrival is longer than it had been https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadian-airports-warn-chaos- amid-new-covid-19-testing-rules-2021 -12-02 before introduction last week https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canada-ban-travelers-nigeria-malawi-egypt- amid-omicron-concerns-toronto-star-2021-11-30 of a plan from Canada to possibly test all passengers arriving from countries other than the United States, an airport spokesperson said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A Reuters reporter departing from a U.S. airport bound for Montreal last week had to repeatedly notify airline agents of an update that exempted Canadian passengers returning to the country after less than 72 hours at the foreigner needing a COVID-19 test.

The rules introduced after Omicron’s discovery are just the latest in a “state of constant change,” said Leslie Dias of Unifor, the union that represents Air Canada customer service workers among other carriers.

In Australia, fully vaccinated travelers to Sydney and Melbourne must now self-isolate at home or in a hotel for 72 hours after arrival. An earlier no-isolation policy led Hawaiian Airlines to add five weekly Honolulu-Sydney flights starting this month, rather than an initial plan of three, its chief executive Peter Ingram said.

Qantas Airways chief executive Alan Joyce said he hoped that once again we learned about Omicron the 72-hour isolation requirement would be lifted.

“We still haven’t figured out if this was a wrench in the works or a fly in the ointment,” Association of Asia Pacific Airlines chief executive Subhas Menon said of from Omicron. “From what we’re seeing now, it looks more like a fly in the ointment which is still good to use.”

(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Additional reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto and Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Will Dunham and Sonya Hepinstall)

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