By Leonard A. Robinson

Southwest Airlines said on May 19 that travel demands are on the rebound as June seems set to be “fairly typical,” providing further hope that summer travel will be near pre-pandemic levels. 

When it released its quarterly earnings, the Dallas-based airline noted that rising jet fuel costs weighed on the company’s bottom line for the past quarter. Southwest expects significant capacity growth in the months ahead, with May being 126% higher than last year and 67% higher for June. 

“Passenger demand and booking trends remain primarily leisure-oriented and inconsistent by region,” Southwest said in an earnings filing. “Despite recent improvements in leisure demand, the company remains cautious and continues to plan for multiple fleet and capacity scenarios.” 

Some airline passengers who have traveled throughout the pandemic are noticing the uptick in passengers, reports the Wall Street Journal. 

“It will be interesting this summer if it’s back to normal,” said B.P. Perry, a political consultant who maintained his robust travel schedule throughout the pandemic. “I’m crossing my fingers that it’s not.”

Perry noted that many passengers had forgotten the essentials of traveling, such as removing laptops from bags and shoes at security checkpoints or trying to bring oversized bags into overhead compartment spaces.

Nevertheless, airlines are preparing for a surge in leisure travel with numerous incentives for passengers, including new destinations, routes, and flight times. However, consumers can expect higher prices to accompany these perks.

Internationally, U.S.-based airlines, such as United, remain doubtful about the potential for widespread international flights, especially to Europe. Numerous European countries continue to prohibit U.S. travelers. 

“We’re probably getting to the point where we’re too late in the booking curve for the rest of Europe,” said United CEO Scott Kirby to Bloomberg, referring to countries like France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, which have yet to reopen to visitors. 

Countries that have reopened to U.S. travelers, such as Croatia, Greece, and Iceland, have seen strong bookings, Kirby added. United has accelerated its launch of new flights to Dubrovnik and now operates a larger plane for flights to Greece to meet demand. 

Those eager to sail the open seas may soon get their chance as well. 

On May 17, Carnival Cruise Lines began active talks with the CDC as the company hopes to restart cruise lines sometime in July, NBC reported.

 “I think the CDC and the interagency groups that are working with us now have that same goal in mind as President Biden,” said Carnival’s president Christine Duffy. “He wants to reopen America by the Fourth of July, and we want to make sure that the cruise industry can be a part of that reopening of America.” 

Citing earlier outbreaks, close confines, and many at-risk passengers, especially the elderly, the CDC shut down cruise operations in March 2020. After facing enormous pressure, the CDC announced on May 5 that cruise ships would be allowed to operate “trial voyages,” or smaller simulated voyages. 

A study from the Cruise Lines International Association from Sep. 2020 reported 73% of cruisers are “likely to cruise” in the next few years, with 50% likely to do so in 2021. 90% of respondents said they would wear a mask onboard. 

“Our data shows that cruisers are eager to cruise again and are willing to follow stringent public health measures in order to return to sailing,” said Bari Golin-Blaugrund, vice president of communications at CLIA.