American adds MIA flights despite COVID pandemic, new testing rules

(Miami Herald) – American Airlines is planning to expand its presence at Miami International Airport this year.

American will become the only U.S. carrier to fly nonstop from MIA to Tel Aviv, Israel, and MIA to Paramaribo, Suriname, come summer, the company announced Monday. The expansion will include increased service to Latin America and the Caribbean and, on June 5, new summer service to Little Rock, Arkansas, and Portland, Maine.

The Tel Aviv flight will operate three times a week beginning June 4. The Surname flight will operate five times a week beginning July 1.

By this summer, American is planning to have 16% more capacity to Latin America and the Caribbean from MIA compared to 2019.

The announced MIA expansion comes as travel remains limited amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In January, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began requiring travelers of any nationality coming to the U.S. to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before boarding their flights. The CDC continues to warn against travel.

In the 13 days since the CDC’s testing requirement took effect for international travelers on Jan. 26, MIA has seen an average of around 71 passengers per international arrival flight, compared to 111 passengers per flight in the 13 days prior, according to airport statistics.

Network-wide, American Airlines’ capacity is down about 50%, said Vasu Raja, the company’s chief revenue officer. Miami has remained more resilient; capacity through MIA is down around 25%, he said.

Still, American Airlines remains optimistic that demand for air travel will return in short order.

“We’re going to have more and more flights to Miami, continue to grow and expand the hub, and give more choices to more people to come to this great city,” said Raja. “American Airlines has always been the biggest and the best in Miami, and as we recover from the pandemic, American will be bigger and better than ever.”

In April, American will increase its Port-au-Prince service to five daily flights from MIA, and its Santiago and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, service to four and seven daily flights, respectively. Bogota, Medellin, and Cali, Colombia; Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador; Lima, Peru; and Santiago, Chile, will also see service increase.

American will be the only U.S. carrier to fly to Suriname, what Raja calls an “untapped market” of travelers anxious to go home to see friends and family, whether that be in the U.S. or Suriname.

Since before COVID-19 uprooted the tourism industry, American Airlines has shrunk its Miami workforce from about 13,000 to 12,000, said Juan Carlos Liscano, American’s vice president of hub operations in Miami. To prepare for the increase in flights announced Monday, Liscano said he’s hired about 220 people.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who oversees the airport and economic development committee, called American’s continued investment in MIA a “message of hope.”

“We all know what the global pandemic has done to the economy in South Florida,” he said. “We’re excited today to give a message of hope. If you’re at home and you’re watching this, you should be comforted by the fact that there’s an expansion that’s going on.”

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