Airline bosses have expressed apprehensions regarding Omicron’s impact on the sector as it slowly limps back to normalcy following pandemic-related travel restrictions that may be reimposed if the variant turns out to be a vaccine-resistant superspreader.
“December is a very important month for the air travel business. If that is lost, or the winter is lost to a lot of carriers, there will be significant traumas in the business, certainly the aviation business and the periphery,” warned Emirates airline President Tim Clark in a statement to Reuters. If disruptions are renewed, they are expected to veer the sector right off the recovery path.
Just as global travel was returning to a routine schedule, with flight bookings inching toward pre-pandemic levels and airlines resolving staff shortage issues, the new variant has begun to impact the industry and affect bookings.
Multiple countries including the United States, Japan, Britain, and Israel have now imposed travel bans on flights coming in from South Africa, where Omicron was first discovered.
The Omicron CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus variant, according to initial findings by scientists, is proving to be more transmissible, and the current vaccines may not be as effective.
However, South African scientists have recently claimed that the new variant causes mild symptoms that can be treated at home. Information is still being gathered, and it may be some time before effective conclusions can be drawn.
This delay doesn’t help the airline industry, which was put on hold for a significant time during the pandemic.
EasyJet said that near-term bookings have slowed down due to Omicron fears, but the airline expects to return to normal levels before summer’s end next year. “There is very strong pent-up demand. We have more revenue for next summer than we had at this point in time for the summer of 2019,” Johan Lundgren, CEO of EasyJet, told The Guardian.
The company reported a loss before tax of almost $1.47 billion for the end of September 2021. EasyJet shares were down 0.8 percent in Nov. 30’s morning trades.
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary brushed off recent concerns and said flights were almost completely booked for the next couple of weeks.
“We are not canceling any flights … I don’t see that [Omicron variant] as a justifiable reason to prevent people who are vaccinated or have negative PCRs” from traveling, O’Leary told a news conference in Lisbon, while adding that there was currently no risk for traveling within Europe.
Shares for Ryanair took a tumble on Nov. 26 when Omicron was announced but bounced back on Nov. 29.
Currently, the variant has been discovered in many European countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, the Czech Republic, Italy, France, Spain, and Scotland.
“We remain cautious due to prevailing uncertainties, but see that underlying demand is healthy once restrictions are lifted, both for business and leisure travel,” Scandinavian airlines SAS told Reuters, suggesting that people were keen on booking flights when restrictions are lifted.