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American Airlines will add flights from PHL to Europe in 2022 to meet pent-up demand

American Airlines is offering PHL routes to Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Madrid, and Rome in March.

Passengers arrive at American Airlines in Terminal A of the Philadelphia International Airport last week.
Passengers arrive at American Airlines in Terminal A of the Philadelphia International Airport last week.Read moreTHOMAS HENGGE / Staff Photographer

For American Airlines’ Philadelphia hub, summer 2022 is starting to look a lot like the pre-pandemic days of summer 2019: Demand for Europe should be coming back.

“Everybody who didn’t go to Rome in 2020, in 2021, now they’re really eager to go to Rome,” said Brian Znotins, American’s vice president of network planning. “We expect two years of pent-up demand to all fall into 2022.″

The lifting of U.S. restrictions Nov. 8 on travelers coming from Europe was a milestone for the travel industry. Philadelphia International Airport — the transatlantic gateway for American Airlines — did not see an immediate spike in European routes because the fall and winter are traditionally a slower time of year for transatlantic travel. But PHL will see even more overseas routes added back next year.

“In the summer of 2022 we’ll have a bevy of long-haul flights to Europe out of Philadelphia, much like we did in 2019,” Znotins said.

So far, the airline plans to add PHL routes to Paris, Amsterdam, Lisbon, Madrid, and Rome in March. American, PHL’s dominant airline, will announce more of the schedule in the coming weeks.

The coronavirus pandemic and related lockdown orders quashed travel demand starting in mid-March 2020. PHL took an additional hit over the following six months because it did not get federal approval to accept transatlantic flights.

Even once that issue was resolved, in mid-September 2020, U.S. entry restrictions on passengers from most European countries stayed in place until this month. Many American travelers were also wary of making travel plans in Europe.

Through it all, Philadelphia will remain American’s transatlantic gateway “for the foreseeable future,” Znotins said. That’s because of Philadelphia’s geography — well-placed for flights to Europe — and because of the infrastructure that’s available to American at PHL.

“The infrastructure and our schedule there allow us to bring 60 flights in, 70 flights in, all at the same time, from all over the country, so that they can all connect to that one Dublin flight or that one Frankfurt flight,” Znotins said.

American doesn’t have that same capability at, say, New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

“If we do add JFK flights to Europe, some fear that it’s in place of Philadelphia, but it’s really not,” Znotins said. “It’s for us to go after those local New York passengers, who have a lot of nonstop options from New York to Europe.”

American’s current quieter schedule between PHL and Europe isn’t an indicator of what’s in store next year.

“Winter is usually not a high travel demand period, so we’re not looking to add tons of capacity this winter to Europe,” Znotins said. American is currently flying to London’s Heathrow Airport from Philadelphia, and will add flights to Zurich and Dublin next month.

As the schedule grows, American is facing another challenge: delivery delays of new planes from Boeing, whose inspection methods on new 787s have been under scrutiny from federal regulators.

“We’re not actually going to be able to fly as much as we like to Europe from Philadelphia, or the rest of our system for that matter,” Znotins said. “All of our hubs are going to see a level of flying that’s lower than we would like, and that’s because Boeing has been unable to deliver us airplanes.”

This year, American was supposed to get 14 787s from Boeing — and has received just one.

“We are not optimistic that they will be able to deliver a substantial number of those promised airplanes in 2022 before the summer season as well,” Znotins said.

A Boeing spokesperson said the company is conducting inspections and continues “to engage in detailed, transparent discussions with our regulators, customers and suppliers. We know this important work has impacted our deliveries. While we never want to disappoint or cause delays for our customers, quality and safety always come first.”

Without as many of those planes, Znotins said, there’s likely to be “a lot more demand” than what American can offer in terms of capacity. For travelers, that means “the lowest-fare seats are going to sell quickly.”