Aer Lingus is weighing the relaunch of its Dublin-Miami service after more than 1,000 people flew with the airline to the United States on Monday, according to chief executive Lynne Embleton.
The US lifted its ban on non-essential travel from the European Union on Monday, paving the way for Irish people to fly there after almost 20 months of restrictions.
Ms Embleton said four flights, two to New York JFK with one each to Boston and Chicago, carried more than 1,000 passengers from Dublin.
She added that Aer Lingus hopes to add Dublin-Miami to 13 transatlantic routes that the carrier recently announced it would resume in summer 2022.
The service was one of three, along with Dublin to Minneapolis and Hartford, Connecticut, that was not among the routes Aer Lingus said last month it would restore or launch.
The Irish airline could confirm plans to resume Dublin-Miami from next summer early next year, Ms Embleton indicated.
She believes that business travel, normally about 20 per cent of traffic, may be recovering more quickly than predicted during the lockdown.
The Aer Lingus chief acknowledged that some passenger were “treating themselves” in the airline’s business-class cabins, but maintained there were signs that people were flying to do deals.
“What I believe is that face-to-face business is infinitely more productive than telephone calls or video conferencing,” Ms Embleton said. “I’m optimistic that the vast, vast majority of business travel will resume.”
The US remains a key market for Aer Lingus, whose pre-Covid profitability and growth came mainly from its transatlantic business.
The carrier is now flying about 50 per cent of its pre-pandemic passenger capacity. It hopes to increase that to 60 per cent by Christmas and 80 per cent into next summer.
Ms Embleton said it was focusing on restoring pay to workers including ground staff, cabin crew and pilots, as it continued to boost capacity.
However, she cautioned that Aer Lingus still faced financial challenges. The company, part of International Airlines Group (IAG), lost €80 million in the third quarter.
It already owes State agency, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), €150 million and may borrow further cash from that organisation or some other source.
“We’re talking to ISIF, we’re talking to the parent and outside sources,” Ms Embleton said.
She argues that Aer Lingus’s losses combined with the profits it would have earned had Covid-19 restrictions not grounded travel, amount to a “€1 billion swing”.
Ms Embleton has criticised the slow pace at which Government lifted travel restrictions this year, waiting almost three weeks after the rest of the EU to adopt the digital Covid certificate system on July 19th.
The airline boss maintains that this cost Aer Lingus most of a second summer, the period of the year when it earns most of its profits.
However, she acknowledged on Monday that the €90 million pledged by Government to airports next year, allowing them cut charges levied on airlines, prompted Aer Lingus to plan an ambitious summer schedule.
Ms Embleton said the pledge, in Budget 2022, and the decision to extend the employment wage subsidy scheme for aviation workers indicated a change in the Government’s view of air travel from earlier this year.