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US to Colombia flights are booming, even in a pandemic

Colombia US traffic Avianca Boeing 787 Dreamliner

US to Colombia flights are booming, even in a pandemic

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Traffic between the US and Colombia took a hit just like almost all other air traffic last year in March – and for a long time it was nearly impossible to find a flight between the two countries unless you could get yourself on a repatriation service or similar special flight. But then Colombia reopened last year in the fall and for a while Americans didn’t even need a Covid test to enter the country, and nor did Colombians in the other direction.

While things are now a little more restrictive, it remains a popular spot to travel to for those in the US who’ve felt the need to get away. And the build-up in service, plus announcements of even more new flights in future, are reflective of this.

The Flightradar24 tracking data shows that between the second half of March and mid-September, all routes between the US and Colombia went very quiet. This was during the long period that Colombia was very much closed to international arrivals. What services that did operate were for essential purposes only.

A healthy rebound, mostly

A number of city pairs from the US to Colombia’s three busiest airports – Bogotá (BOG), Cartagena (CTG) and Medellín (MDE) – have seen service rebound to levels resembling something like normal. Certain other city pairs still look a little low compared to the pre-pandemic average, but not by all that much in many cases. What’s pretty clear is that there is plenty of demand between the US and Colombia, and it’s been fairly consistent since the end of the most restrictive lockdowns there.

Chart showing flights to main destinations in Colombia

Eastern US to Bogotá leads the way (no surprise)

Miami – Bogotá had a notable surge in flights at the beginning of 2021, with numbers that looked very similar to the same period in 2020. It did dip a little after that though to roughly 20% lower than 2020. Still, not bad numbers considering just how much traffic dropped in the beginning of this year in many other markets, as new variants gave everyone fresh jitters.

American Airlines 777 landing Bogota
An American Airlines 777-200 seen coming in to Bogota, Colombia. AA has been adding flights to Colombia and flying bigger planes in as well.

Atlanta – Bogotá has seen more flights in recent weeks than it did before the pandemic even. On the other hand Houston – Bogotá now has about half the weekly flights it did a year ago. And Los Angeles – Bogotá isn’t seeing any service still.

It’s not only Bogotá that people want to fly to though. Miami – Medellín is also looking very similar for weekly flight totals as it did over a year ago. It’s no surprise that Miami, which has always had the most service to Colombia from the US, has had the healthiest rebound. Fort Lauderdale (FLL) on the other hand looks a little weaker.

Chart showing the top routes to Colombia. Traffic to Colombia is dominated by the Miami-Bogota route.

Avianca loses its dominance

Avianca’s fall from supremacy on US-Colombia routes is one striking aspect of the data. From operating more than double the departures from US to Colombia of its closest rival (American Airlines), the Latin American giant dropped to almost zero flights for quite a while. It also filed for bankruptcy during this time, not least because there was almost no domestic flying to speak of within Colombia either for much of this time.

Colombia US traffic Avianca A320

These days the airline is holding the line but only just about matching American Airlines for total weekly departures from the US, and in fact in March its flights had started another fairly precipitous decline, much more so than its competitors. Avianca has technically been Colombia’s flag carrier for about 100 years, so it’s sad to see it in such a state. But it should be noted that these days it is a multi-national with various controlling parties from well beyond Colombia – with hubs in other Latin American cities too, after it merged with TACA.

Chart showing weekly flights to Colombia by the top 6 passenger airlines

American and Spirit are strongest

Spirit made an aggressive move back into Colombia once their international flight ban was over, and in fact it operated some of the first flights back to Bogotá. If we look at the airlines serving Colombia from the US lately, it’s clear Spirit finds this an attractive market to serve.

Spirit Airlines Colombia US booming even in pandemic Bogota
A Spirit Airlines A320 takes off from Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport (BOG)

While American Airlines has continued to dominate on Colombia routes, Spirit has come in second place for total flights almost every week since the beginning of 2020. Jetblue has come close some weeks. United and Delta – not even close.

More service to come

As part of American Airlines’ build-up at New York JFK (thanks to their partnership with jetBlue) the carrier has added three nonstops to Colombia from the airport formerly known as Idlewild – Cali (CLO), Bogotá (BOG) and Medellín (MDE). That’s due to begin in May.

This seems to be a hot market in an industry that’s still mostly hoping in vain for some money-making routes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more service additions between the US and Colombia as we come out of the pandemic. Maybe those tourism ads from about ten years ago – which claimed “the only risk is wanting to stay” – really stuck with people.

 

Featured image © Felipe Betancur Montoya

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