Early in the pandemic, pretty much everyone stopped traveling. By last year, the summer of 2022, air travel had largely rebounded — for domestic trips. But international travel still hadn’t caught up to pre-pandemic levels.

But now it’s come back, with travel abroad — especially to Europe — surging this summer. And that has consequences for airlines and airfares.

In the last year, consumers’ COVID-19 hesitation — about getting on a crowded plane, breathing recirculated air — has basically vanished, said Lindsey Roeschke at public opinion firm Morning Consult. 

And, with most COVID-related restrictions on Americans entering other countries now gone, “the share that say they’re going to travel internationally in the next year is up about 9 points,” Roeschke said. “And it definitely is stealing some share from domestic travel.”

That’s hurting low-cost carriers that fly primarily domestic routes, including JetBlue, Spirit and Southwest, said analyst Chris Raite at Third Bridge.

But the shift is benefiting Delta, American and United, which have more international routes. “Fares hit record levels for this summer from the U.S. to Europe,” Raite said.

He said those airlines are also catering to better-heeled travelers: “The mainline carriers have for the most part all reconfigured their cabins to the premium leisure traveler, those who are a bit more affluent, who are willing to spend, say, an extra $100 for extra legroom on a flight.”

Airfares overall are down about 8% from a year ago: that’s mostly driven by domestic airfares falling. And Raite expects the trend to continue.

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