* Border openings had accelerated before Omicron discovery
* Some booking searches are down week on week -Travelport
* American Airlines says new COVID-19 variant would delay
(Adds comments from American Airlines, background details)
Dec 7 (Reuters) - New travel restrictions prompted by the
Omicron coronavirus variant have set back the nascent recovery
in international flights, creating delays and headaches in some
regions, according to airline and airport officials.
The flurry of new testing rules and border closings has
raised concerns ahead of the important Christmas travel season,
but some airline bosses said they hope any backward moves will
Global airlines have blamed a patchwork of shifting rules
for depressed demand for international travel, which is critical
for their return to profit following steep COVID-19
pandemic-related losses in 2020.
American Airlines incoming Chief Executive Robert
Isom told Reuters the Texas-based carrier's return to
profitability is contingent on a full-scale recovery in travel
demand. American has the largest debt stock in the U.S. airline
"If there's anything (in the way), it just delays recovery,"
He said the airline's domestic business remained strong but
the new travel restrictions had dampened demand in some
Airline stocks have recovered some ground following a
sell-off last week. While investors are taking heart from
anecdotal evidence that suggests the new variant might not be as
lethal as originally feared, it could take weeks, even months to
know its effect on the course of the pandemic.
U.N. agencies specializing in aviation and tourism pleaded
on Tuesday for travel restrictions in response to new
coronavirus variants to be imposed only as a last resort.
Japan has banned foreigners, the United States is requiring
a COVID-19 test 24 hours before flying, and travellers to
Singapore now must be tested daily for seven days after arrival.
"We were seeing accelerating openings until Omicron,"
Campbell Wilson, chief executive of Singapore Airlines
budget offshoot Scoot, said at an event held in Sydney by
market-intelligence company CAPA Centre for Aviation.
"We have seen basically a pause since then," Wilson added.
Airlines and travel agencies are hopeful that rising
vaccination rates and new medicines would make a difference.
"This is not the spring of 2020," said Booking Holdings
Inc's Chief Executive Glenn Fogel. "Absolutely not."
But Sue Carter, head of Asia Pacific at booking technology
firm Travelport, said she has seen some searches go down week on
week, adding that traveller confidence tends to be closely
linked to government announcements.
EVER-CHANGING RULES CAUSE CONFUSION
A spokesperson for trade group Airports Council
International (ACI) World said the global patchwork of travel
rules is challenging airport operations and called for better
coordination between countries.
At Calgary International Airport, the line upon 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 the 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 by Canada to eventually test all passengers arriving
from countries other than the United States, an airport
The Public Health Agency of Canada did not immediately
respond to requests for comment.
A Reuters reporter departing from a U.S. airport to Montreal
last week had to repeatedly inform airline agents of an update
that exempted Canadian passengers returning to the country after
less than 72 hours abroad from needing a COVID-19 test.
Rules brought in after the discovery of Omicron are just the
latest in "a constant state of change," said Leslie Dias of
Unifor, the union that represents customer service workers at
Air Canada among other carriers.
In Australia, fully vaccinated travellers to Sydney and
Melbourne must now isolate at their home or a hotel for 72 hours
after arrival. An earlier policy of no isolation led Hawaiian
Airlines to add five weekly Honolulu-Sydney flights
starting this month, rather than an initial plan for three, its
chief executive Peter Ingram said.
Qantas Airways Chief Executive Alan Joyce said his
hope is that once more is known about Omicron, the 72-hour
isolation requirement would be removed.
"We still haven't figured out whether this is a spanner in
the works or a fly in the ointment," Association of Asia Pacific
Airlines Director General Subhas Menon said of Omicron. "From
what we see now, it looks more like a fly in the ointment that
is still good for using."
(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)