Transatlantic flights carrying fewer than 20 passengers

Airlines undertaking flights to US to take advantage of lucrative freight contracts

Aer Lingus is flying to three destinations in the US – Boston, New York and Chicago – and has kept those routes active throughout the crisis. Photograph:  Colin Keegan

Aer Lingus is flying to three destinations in the US – Boston, New York and Chicago – and has kept those routes active throughout the crisis. Photograph: Colin Keegan

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Passenger numbers from the US to Ireland in recent days have been less than 10 per cent of what would normally be expected at this time of year while a significant number of flights are crossing the Atlantic with fewer than 20 passengers on board.

While concerns have grown about the number of US visitors flying into Dublin and subsequently moving around the country despite a spike in Covid-19 cases in many US states and Irish rules mandating a 14-day quarantine period for new arrivals, airport sources say tourist numbers remain very low.

Aer Lingus is flying to three destinations in the US – Boston, New York and Chicago – and has kept those routes active throughout the crisis. United Airlines recommenced four weekly flights to Newark on July 7th while American Airlines resumed flights to and from Dallas on July 11th.

The Irish Times understands the numbers on most flights have been less than 20 with not much more than 100 people travelling from the US to Ireland on American carriers over the last seven days.

An American Airlines spokeswoman said it had operated two flights from Dallas/Fort Worth to Dublin since resuming service. “The busiest flight we operated only had 8 per cent of the seats occupied,” she said.

An Aer Lingus spokesman said that since March its transatlantic passenger numbers had been very low. They largely involved the repatriation of Irish and European citizens from North America to Ireland and Europe, as well as the repatriation of US and Canadian citizens from Ireland and Europe to North America.

“There has been an average of approximately 150 inbound passengers per day arriving on our services from North America, compared to an average figure of 4,200 per day for the same period in 2019,” he said. He added that around 30 per cent of current inbound passengers from North America “don’t remain in Ireland but connect to other services to Europe”.

Ghost flights

A spokesman for United Airlines said the airline was “not able to provide the requested passenger details” but said “the performance of our Dublin-New York/Newark service is in line with expectations”.

Airlines have been anxious to resume flights across the Atlantic to take advantage of lucrative freight contracts while flying so called ghost flights has also meant refund options for passengers with seats booked before the crisis hit are dramatically reduced.

According to the DAA, the authority which manages Dublin Airport, 4,700 passengers travelled on transatlantic routes to and from Ireland in April, a decline of 99 per cent on 2019. In May, the number was 6,500, down 98 per cent while in June the numbers travelling were 11,000, also down 98 per cent.

While the numbers coming from the US are significantly less than a cursory look at the flight schedules would suggest, even small numbers are a cause for concern. And the presence of American tourists have prompted many in the hospitality sector to cancel bookings and introduce new measures to protect staff and their community.

Tourists and quarantine

Janet Cavanagh owns the E-Whizz bike rental company in Kilfenora and she told The Irish Times she had cancelled a booking from two Minneapolis tourists she received through Airbnb Experiences.

“They said they were travelling down from Dublin and I messaged them to see if they had quarantined. They said they had not realised it was mandatory so I cancelled the booking.”

“This is black and white, if you come here you have to quarantine. I am not going to put anyone at risk. I live in a small village and no one would thank me for bringing people in from overseas who had not followed the rules.”

Ms Cavanagh pointed out that the tourists would probably travel west in any event: “Who knows where they will end up?”

JP McMahon, owner of Galway restaurants Cava, Aniar and Tartare, has changed his company’s booking policy after a group of four Texans dined at Cava with staff unable to say if they had just arrived in Ireland or if they should be quarantining. “Not only were staff concerned, so were other diners,” he told The Irish Times. “You could almost hear a pin drop when they heard the accents.”

He pointed out that it “would be incredibly serious” for his business if the country was forced into lockdown again or if anyone of his staff or patrons were diagnosed with Covid-19.

He said he felt a “responsibility to police this as best I can” and called on the Government to move to restrict flights from hotspots to protect public health and the wider economy in the longer term.