U.S. airlines do not see speedy return of China, Japan travel demand

FILE PHOTO: A Delta employee takes a picture of Delta Airlines Flight 295 to Tokyo, Japan at the newly opened Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal in Atlanta, Georgia

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group representing major U.S. airlines said Tuesday it does not foresee a return of significant international passenger air travel demand from either China or Japan before the end of March and sought an extension of a waiver of some U.S. COVID-19 international route requirements.

Airlines for America, a trade group representing major U.S. carriers, told the U.S. Transportation Department (USDOT) that airlines "do not foresee significant and certain international passenger growth in either China or Japan before" the expiration of a current USDOT waiver.

The group added ticket sales for the U.S.-China market as of December remained 88% below 2019 levels, adding passenger demand for both markets remains "severely depressed."

Airlines have receives a series of waivers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic from "use-it-or-lose-it" constraints for some international services.

The group added that "international air travel to China remains severely depressed due to cumbersome, uncertain, and constantly evolving travel requirements and entry barriers."

The group cited new testing requirements for travelers from

China to the United States, implementation of revised travel and visa requirements for entry into China and the ongoing temporary refusal of tourism visa and "implementation of restrictions in other jurisdictions for travelers coming from China."

The United States imposed mandatory COVID-19 tests on travelers from China effective Jan. 5.

The airlines said entry restrictions on nationalities "suppress demand and prevent our members from being able to operate their limited-entry frequencies." The group said travel to Tokyo Haneda airport remains severely depressed.

"While Japan is starting to reopen to international travel and, as a result, the U.S.-Tokyo demand environment is improving, the pace of the rebound has been sluggish and forward-looking demand remains choppy," the group said.

Passenger volumes for the U.S.-Tokyo for all of 2022 was just 19%, while the international average over that period is 56%, it said.

Delta Air Lines said on Friday it expects to cautiously "rebuild capacity to China in line with demand starting later this year."

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Marguerita Choy)