United adds summer flights to Iceland, Greece and Croatia in hopes vaccinations spur travel rebound

United adds summer flights to Iceland, Greece and Croatia in hopes vaccinations spur travel rebound

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner operated by United Airlines takes off at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on January 9, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

David McNew | Getty Images

United Airlines on Monday said it is adding flights to Iceland, Croatia and Greece for the summer in hopes that relaxed entry requirements will spur demand for popular tourist destinations.

Much of continental Europe remains off-limits for most U.S. citizens, and airline executives last week were pessimistic that would change in time for summer vacations.

But United is picking a few European destinations that have already loosened travel restrictions or are expected to in the coming weeks.

“It’s been creating a pop in searches,” said Patrick Quayle, United’s vice president of international network and alliances.

The carrier is adding a Chicago-Reykjavik flight from July 1 through Oct. 3 after Iceland last month announced it would allow tourists from outside Europe to visit, without a quarantine, if they can show proof of a Covid-19 vaccine.

After the announcement from Iceland, Delta Air Lines said it would resume service to Reykjavik from New York City and Minneapolis, and would add a flight from Boston. United had previously announced service from Newark, New Jersey, to Iceland that will run from June 3 through Oct. 29.

United will also add service from Newark to Dubrovnik, Croatia, three times a week from July 8 through Oct. 3. That country allows in visitors who can show proof of a negative Covid-19 test or proof of vaccination.

Greece last month said it would open its borders in mid-May to vaccinated tourists or those who show a recent negative Covid test result, through Reuters reported last week that shift could happen as early as this week.

United said it plans to add a Washington Dulles-to-Athens flight that will operate July 1 through Oct. 3, in addition to its Newark-Athens service, which it expects to resume on June. 3.

International service is still down though more people are getting vaccinated and some travel restrictions have been lifted.

In May, international flights will account for 40% of United’s total capacity, down from 45% during the same month of 2019. Domestic leisure demand has recovered to near pre-pandemic levels, executives said recently. American Airlines and Delta say they’ll put big planes — normally used for long-haul international flights — on popular domestic routes this summer.

One bright spot internationally for United has been northern Latin America, like Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, said Quayle. He said doesn’t expect the rest of Europe to open immediately, though United is resuming service from Newark to Milan and Rome and from Chicago to Munich and Amsterdam next month.

“I’m most optimistic about the U.K. and the U.S. creating an air bridge between the two countries,” he said.