Europe-bound travelers from the USA this summer can choose from a record number of flights, reflecting strategic decisions by big U.S. airlines to go where they think they can make more money.
In July, a USA TODAY analysis of schedules shows, U.S. and foreign airlines are offering a record 386 non-stop flights a day from the continental USA to Europe. That's 21% more than in 2003, when airlines started boosting trans-Atlantic service, the analysis shows.
Frankfurt, Germany; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and Rome gained the most flights during the period, adding about five extra daily flights each. Carriers including Delta, Continental, KLM and Air India added flights from the USA to these cities.
U.S airlines, not the foreign carriers, have contributed most to overall trans-Atlantic growth, making up two-thirds of the net increase in flights during the period, the analysis shows. That shifted U.S. airlines' market share on trans-Atlantic routes to 49% of July flights, up from 45% in 2003.
Struggling U.S. airlines started expanding international routes three years ago when the air service offered by domestic discounters reached a critical mass, depressing fares on many U.S. routes.
Since July 2005, the number of U.S.-Europe flights has grown 7%, faster than growth in service to Latin America or Asia. Meanwhile, fares on trans-Atlantic routes are at a three-year high, according to consultant Sabre Airline Solutions. The cost of the average one-way ticket for July is $549 including fuel surcharges, up 44% from three years ago. U.S. travelers purchased 6% more tickets for Europe for July travel than last year, Sabre says.
With demand brisk and fares high, the flights added in the last year alone should generate $1 billion extra this year for all airlines, says Craig Jenks, whose consulting firm, Airline/Aircraft Projects, monitors trans-Atlantic service.
Travelers shouldn't expect fares to drop any time soon, Jenks says. The rapid build-up of flights has ended and travel demand remains strong, allowing airlines to keep prices high, he says.
The weaker dollar, which diminishes Americans' buying power in Europe, isn't hurting demand to any big extent, says Glen Hauenstein, Delta executive vice president.
"Bookings look strong through the rest of the summer and early fall, far exceeding expectations," he says.
More people are going to Europe this year, partly because they perceive it as safer than many other foreign destinations, says Sandra Hughes, who runs AAA's agency division. They've also been inspired by movies filmed in Europe, such as The Da Vinci Code, she says.
Both U.S. and foreign carriers say their planes will be full this summer, despite the added flights.
Lufthansa, which offers 11% more flights this month vs. three years ago, according to the USA TODAY analysis, expects packed planes all summer, spokeswoman Jennifer Urbaniak says.
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