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Air travel dips sharply as delta variant continues to derail vacation plans

Summer travel has been the big rebound story for 2021, with Covid-tired American travelers spending $ 6 billion on domestic flights in June alone, trading screen time for downtime.

The delta variant of the coronavirus quickly changed all that.

Online domestic flight bookings in July fell to $ 5.26 billion, down 13% from the previous month and 16% from 2019 levels, according to data from the Index. Adobe’s digital economy.

And the numbers for August are dropping even faster: In the first three weeks of the month, August 1 to 21, $ 2.9 billion was spent online on domestic flights. This is 33% less than the same period in 2019.

The numbers show that “US consumers are taking the Delta variant seriously and are once again changing their travel plans,” said Vivek Pandya, chief analyst at Adobe Digital Insights. “At the current rate, we expect spending for August to be significantly lower than July.”

Reports from other parts of the travel industry tell the same story.

American Airlines said last week that August revenues were lower than expected because Covid cases were driving bookings down, the company’s chief revenue officer told an investor conference Raymond James. Other airlines, including Southwest, Frontier and Spirit, have issued similar warnings.

A recent survey of 1,000 American travelers by market research firm Longwoods International showed that nearly two-thirds of travelers surveyed said they were changing their travel plans because of the coronavirus, up from 43% earlier. at two months.

Leo MacLeod and his wife Lisa LaManna, who plan to travel the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route in Spain, told NBC News they are changing their vacation plans due to Covid.

“We were going to stop in Paris on the way, but because France has such strict Covid-19 restrictions and we fear crossing borders with the raging delta variant, we decided to skip France and go directly to Spain, ”MacLeod said. noted.

In addition to travelers who change their plans, Longwoods found that 36% of U.S. travelers surveyed said they had postponed their trip until the end of the year or early next year, due to the delta variant. This is 24% more than a month ago.

“The summer travel boom is likely to run out of steam as fall approaches,” said Amir Eylon, President and CEO of Longwoods International.

Fueling the fall is the news that the governor of Hawaii is asking visitors not to travel to the state, and more cities are bringing back their mask warrants and requiring proof of Covid vaccination to enter restaurants and places of entertainment.

“The drop in new flight bookings at the end of the summer is happening earlier and faster than before the pandemic,” Scott Keyes, founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, told NBC.

But Keyes says there is a silver lining. “This slowdown in new travel purchases is pushing airlines to put their thumbs on the scales and stimulate new bookings by cutting air fares to attract bargain hunters,” he said. “Airlines are also offering free flexibility to holders of basic economy tickets for the remainder of 2021, as United and Delta recently announced.”

Looking ahead to the Labor Day holiday weekend, domestic flight bookings are down 16% from Labor Day weekend 2019, according to Adobe.

Many travelers may choose to drive this holiday weekend, feeling safer in a private vehicle than on a plane or other public transportation. And while last year’s Labor Day weekend gasoline prices were the lowest since 2004, this year prices at the pump are expected to average $ 3.11 per gallon. This is the highest since the summer of 2014, according to the fuel savings platform GasBuddy.

“For the most part, people who were planning to travel continue to travel, but are aware of taking important safety precautions to protect themselves and others,” said Julie Hall, spokesperson for the AAA. “But with a resurgence of Covid-19 cases, it’s important that travelers stay informed and show flexibility. “