As we enter the third year of the coronavirus pandemic, the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. Many of us did not expect to face another surge with record COVID-19 cases in early 2022, but the Omicron variant has made it a reality. Even so, I’m still optimistic that the travel industry’s recovery will continue in 2022. While no one is quite sure what the future holds, here are my best predictions for travel in 2022.
Major airlines will allow changes to Basic Economy tickets (paid)
It’s something I had (wrongly) predicted back to the start of the pandemic. The major airlines indeed allowed free changes on Basic Economy tickets for a full year when the pandemic began in early 2020, but they all ended up bringing back a “no changes allowed” policy for Basic Economy tickets in spring 2021. However, after the Delta variant went mainstream, a few airlines brought back waivers to allow changes through the end of 2021.
As of 2022, Delta Air Lines has decided to change its cancellation policy for Basic Economy tickets by allowing their cancellation for a fee of $99 or $199 depending on the route. While most airlines have either ended change waivers for Basic Economy tickets or extended them in a very limited capacity, I expect a few major airlines, like American and United, to follow suit. example of Delta and are beginning to allow modification or cancellation of Basic Economy fares. for a fee like a normal policy.
The world will open its borders
In some places, borders have been closed to international travelers for almost two years, but we have also seen several countries around the world open to tourism in 2021. While the Omicron variant has caused many countries to limit, once again plus, travel, those restrictions have since eased. The fact that the Omicron variant has not sent us back into a global lockdown shows that much of the world is starting to live with the virus rather than pursuing a “COVID-Zero” mentality.
Currently, vaccinated Americans can travel to many destinations around the world without mandatory quarantines. The main exception being countries in the Asia-Pacific region. New Zealand had a timetable in place to be open by the end of April 2022, but its plans to gradually reopen borders have been postponed due to the Omicron variant. Japan had also started easing restrictions for business travelers and students, but reverted to banning all foreign travelers following Omicron.
Yet it is hard to believe that this region will remain closed to the rest of the world for another full year. Destinations such as Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam had already started to open up to tourism in a limited way in 2021 and once Omicron is gone I think we will see this trend continue. While I’m not too sure China will reopen anytime soon, I think we’ll be able to visit places like Australia, Indonesia, and South Korea by the end of 2022.
Masks and tests are here to stay
Mask mandates and enforcement vary wildly depending on where you are in the world, but the one place you’ll consistently see masks being worn is on an airplane. And I don’t see that changing in 2022. The US federal mask mandate for passengers on planes, trains, buses, and other modes of transportation is currently in place until March 18, 2022, and it’s highly likely that this will continue to be extended throughout the year.
A negative COVID test is also still required for all passengers boarding a flight to the United States from a foreign country. I think testing requirements for international travel will largely remain throughout 2022. This will be especially true for destinations in the Asia-Pacific region that have yet to open their borders. Expect to follow strict testing requirements to enter these countries if they do open in 2022, even if you are fully vaccinated.
Related: The best COVID tests for traveling
A new low-cost transatlantic airline will see the light of day
Europe gradually opened its borders to American travelers in 2021 and major airlines began adding transatlantic routes on a limited basis. However, a major change in the transatlantic market is that there are now very few routes operated by low-cost carriers compared to before the pandemic. Norwegian has decided to end its long-haul operations and focus on a European network, making room for a new low-cost carrier to start flying across the Atlantic.
Iceland’s new low-cost airline Play is already scheduled to start flying to the US in April and a relatively new airline, French Bee, plans to add a new transatlantic route between Los Angeles and Paris in 2022. That being said, these additions are still miniscule compared to the number of routes Norwegian takes.
Whether it be Norse Atlantic Airwaysa new company that plans to use Norwegian’s 787 Dreamliners to perform a similar route network, PRAGUSE.ONEa start-up airline that hopes to launch non-stop service between Croatia and the United States, or another new low-cost airline that we haven’t heard of yet, I think there will be enough demand to justify another low-cost carrier carrying leisure travelers between the United States and Europe in 2022.
Regional flights will be replaced by a bus service
Small US cities that rely on regional flights to airline hubs have been hit hard during the pandemic. American, Delta and United cut dozens of regional routes at the end of 2021, dramatically reducing flight options from airports such as College Station, TX (CLL), Columbia, MO (COU) and La Crosse, WI (LSE).
For many rural Americans, the lack of competition often results in fares out of regional airports being uncompetitive compared to driving to a larger airport. In recent years, one bus company, Landline, has taken advantage of the need to keep smaller markets connected to larger airports by offering direct bus service instead of flights.
Landline currently partners with Sun Country Airlines connecting Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) airport with seven regional cities in the Upper Midwest by bus or door-to-door private vehicle. Travelers can book connecting “flights” from these cities as they normally would, with checked baggage transferred and any unforeseen delays automatically postponed. Landline also has a similar partnership with United to connect Fort Collins/Loveland Airport (FNL) to Denver (DEN).
United has also long offered a “flight” bus connection between Allentown (ABE) and Newark Airport (EWR). I think we will see these types of services expand in 2022 where regional flights will be replaced by bus service, which is more economical than flying short distances with inefficient jets.
Cheap business class tickets (with more restrictions)
While leisure travel has rebounded, it’s a different story for people traveling primarily for business. This has already led to a drastic drop in prices for business class fares around the world. For example, it’s not uncommon to find a business class ticket to Europe for less than $2,500. It was pretty much unheard of before the pandemic. As airlines shift to selling these luxury seats to leisure travelers, I expect prices to remain very competitive. However, I won’t be surprised if more restrictions are added.
A few airlines, such as Emirates and Finnair, have recently started selling a “Basic” business class product, which has restrictions or additional fees for services such as seat assignment, checked baggage and lounge access. I think it’s entirely possible that more major carriers will start adopting this model to increase revenue after selling deeply discounted business class tickets. As with economy fares, this will also encourage true business travelers to pay more for a less restrictive fare.
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