Flights to Central America

What’s With All These New Flights to Central America?

You might have noticed that there are a lot more flights to Central America at the moment, with more on the way. What’s with that, during a pandemic?

If you hang around the fringes of the travel industry, you’ve probably seen a bunch of announcements over the past month or so from different airlines announcing new routes to Central America.

Actually, you don’t need to have anything to do with the travel biz. If you’re an expat in Central America or have family living in the region, you’re most likely also clued into what the airlines are saying.

This morning, American Airlines announced brand new direct services from Chicago to Costa Rica from November 2021. A thrice weekly flight to San Jose (SJO) and a weekly one to Guanacaste (LIR).

The announcement prompted a tweet from President Carlos Alvarado. He noted how American Airlines will soon have the highest amount of weekly flights in the 31 years it’s been operating to Costa Rica. Alvarado also praised the ICT (Costa Rica’s tourism institute) for its work in attracting more tourists and flights to Costa Rica.

Last month, American also opened up more flights to Costa Rica from Miami, and before that, in June, it announced a new service from Austin, Texas to Guanacaste plus more flights from New York.

American Airlines isn’t alone in this expansion of flights to Central America we’re seeing right now.

Spirit, Southwest, Frontier, and United have all announced expansions and new routes to Costa Rica from the United States since April. In Spain, Iberia announced its Madrid-San Jose route would now operate daily, while a another airline, Iberojet, also began flying to Costa Rica from the Spanish capital.

In May, Alaska Airlines announced two new direct routes from Los Angeles and Seattle to Belize, starting in November. These will be the first direct flights from the West Coast of the United States to Belize.

Increased commercial air service is imperative to the success of Belize’s tourism, and with these new West Coast connections, we are able to offer convenience and more availability to our guests looking for a unique getaway,” said Belize Tourism Minister Anthony Mahler at the time.

Frontier Airlines also announced a new direct route to Belize from Denver, Colorado with prices as low as $99. The same airline also opened routes from Miami to Guatemala City, Guatemala and Miami to San Salvador, El Salvador in April for the first time.

Elsewhere, JetBlue began brand new flights from the U.S. to Guatemala City. There’s now a direct daily service from New York. Colombian carrier Avianca has inaugurated new flights from a host of U.S. cities to Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador in the past month. For its part, in November, Spirit will start flying into the Palmerola Airport near Tegucicalpa, Honduras from Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Houston.

So what gives? Why are all these airlines increasing their routes to Central America during a pandemic?

After all, aren’t we all meant to not be traveling at the moment? One look at the media, and that’s what you’d believe, right?

Casey Halloran, CEO of the Namu Travel Group in San Jose, Costa Rica offers an interesting theory.

It’s a surprise upside of the pandemic,” he says. “There’s almost zero business travel, which means all these airlines have planes sitting on the ground. To counter that, airlines are opening up far more leisure routes to destinations like us.

He has a point. In a world where Zoom has now replaced face-to-face meetings, business travel became redundant overnight. And as the pandemic wanes, many companies now realize they like continuing with online meetings rather than sending their execs on costly trips around the world.

As a result, it might be a long time before business travel resumes again, if it ever does. According to Business Insider, the business travel sector lags some 60% behind leisure travel.

After a year and a half of sitting at home, the urge to travel again has never been stronger, hence the resurgence of leisure travel.

Indeed, according to American Airlines, they’re facing “the single largest increase in leisure travel the airline has ever seen.

It’s not hard to see why. People are now vaccinated and/or have Covid antibodies. They’re stir crazy and they’re ready to go. It’s leisure travel that’s driving the whole industry right now, and that’s not likely to change in the next couple of years.

So if you’re planning a vacation this winter, whether to Costa Rica, Belize, or elsewhere, things look good for you. You have more flights to Central America than ever to choose from, from more cities than ever. Ditto if you’re an expat in Central America wanting to visit family in your home country for the first time in over a year.

Take advantage of the situation and make your first post-pandemic trip abroad this winter to a Central American tropical paradise.

James Dyde is the editor of centralamerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.