Delta CEO: Travel to Europe likely to require vaccine or test

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
View Comments

Americans looking to travel to Europe this summer likely will need proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test to fly abroad due to foreign government requirements, Delta Air Lines Inc. CEO Ed Bastian told the Detroit Economic Club on Wednesday.

His comments came as the Atlanta-based airline with a major hub at the Detroit Metro Airport has seen reservations more than triple from the start of the year mostly for domestic travel, Bastian said. In 2020, the pandemic had induced a 60% decrease in travel and cost the airlines billions of dollars in losses following record profits.

Delta Air Lines Inc. CEO Ed Bastian says Americans looking to travel this summer to Europe likely will require proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or negative test due to government requirements.

“We’ve said all along it was going to take a vaccination, a cure for the disease that kept people safe and inoculated and a key determinate to when people start to travel,” Bastian said in a virtual session. “Vaccination rates have picked up through the spring, and people have decided to book their travels currently but in the spring and summer coming up. … That’s a direct correlation to the confidence people are having to feeling safe.”

March travel at Detroit Metro dropped 2.3% from the same month in 2020, to 1.511 million passengers, according to the most recent data from the Wayne County Airport Authority. However, the March figure marks a 38% increase from February. Through the first quarter, travel is down 47% year-over-year with 3.659 million passengers. 

Much of the increases in demand are resulting from domestic travel, but work is underway for the summer months for leisure travel to Europe, Bastian said, especially around the Mediterranean to Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

"They can’t go a second year without U.S. dollars," he said. "It’s such an important part of their economies. And going through what the requirements will be, many of those countries have said they will accept U.S. travelers for the summer provided those travelers are vaccinated and can evidence that through a technology source, which we’re working on, or demonstrated with a vaccination card or a clean test."

Getting the shot or a negative COVID-19 test is not a Delta requirement, Bastian emphasized. The company is working with organizations like the Common Project that allow users to obtain their vaccination and test records through their phone. Returning U.S. residents will need a negative COVID-19 test, as is the current requirement.

More travel to Asia likely will take longer, Bastian added. He expects it could take until next year before more opportunities to fly there will be available.

Consumer demand is leading the industry over business travel, which currently is about a quarter of typical rates, Bastian said. He expects that should increase to half in the latter part of the year as workplaces reopen. Delta's Atlanta headquarters is set to reopen fully next month.

"Business travel is driven by people going someplace to see other people," the CEO said. "You’re going to see a customer, and if their place of work is closed, it’s pretty hard to have business travel."

Delta earlier this month resumed selling tickets for the middle seats on its aircraft, the last major airline to do so. The company on Wednesday took the No. 1 spot in J.D. Power's customer satisfaction survey for the first time since 1995.

"As we looked to restore travel and confidence in travel amongst our customers, we knew distance was an important element to the restoration of that confidence and safeguarding their space," Bastian said. "It's not practical to have social distance if you define it as 6 feet when you board a plane; the middle seat made a big difference."

Since restoring that seat, some customers have been pleased about the sign of returning to normalcy, though additional sanitizing efforts are expected to continue even beyond COVID, Bastian said. About 60% of Delta employee are fully vaccinated.

"I encourage everyone, book your plans," he concluded. "Prices are really good right now, but I can assure you, prices are going to increase as demand continues to grow."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble

View Comments