By Ed Forry
Boston Irish Publisher
The city of Boston historically has been a “Gateway City” to Ireland, one of only three American cities with that distinction. Over six decades, Ireland’s national airline, Aer Lingus, has delivered maybe a million or more happy Irish folks to and from Boston and the Emerald Isle.
But a lot has changed since March of last year when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and the airline industry shut down worldwide. The next month, when the Irish government imposed strict rules that dramatically curbed the number of visitors coming into the country, and required 14-day quarantines for all arrivals, Aer Lingus canceled the Shannon flights, continuing flights from Boston only to Dublin throughout the pandemic.
Today, even as Ireland begins to re-open for visitors, Aer Lingus’s Dublin flights remain the only reliable way to get from here to the Irish homeland.
Bill Byrne, Aer Lingus’s Senior Vice President for Global Sales for Aer Lingus, spoke recently with BostonIrish.com about the airline’s strategy for travel between the eastern US and Ireland.
“Certainly, New York and Boston are the gateways to Ireland. But since the pandemic, those are the only ones that we've operated and we've continued to operate those, even though we've had few to no passengers up until recently,” he said in a Zoom interview.
Byrne said that Aer Lingus has routes from 14 North American cities, but only Boston and New York have remained active.
“What's happening with the Shannon service from both Boston and New York is pretty much the same,” he said. “If we could get substantial numbers of people that want to fly on that flight, we'll put it into service.
“Shannon isn't flying right now for a couple of reasons. One, there's little or no corporate traffic moving at all, and there's not a significant amount of tour business going into Ireland right now. So, without those two elements, you really only fly in people who want to visit family and relatives, and that flight to Shannon is not enough to save the day.
“The issue that we're looking at for Shannon very carefully is this: We’ll fly there if there's some interest, but we really honestly don't expect the interest really to come back till St. Patty's Day next year. I mean, that's kind of what we're doing.”
Byrne said that while Shannon flights remain on the airline’s website (aerlingus.com), the low level of interest the prospective flights receive means that they are routinely cancelled. “We have it on sale, so it's there to be sold, but we'll have days on Shannon when there's only one or two bookings. I think we'll fly any flight that books well. Absolutely. But it's just not booking very much, so we've just recently canceled Shannon for September through October. And that's because we had few to no bookings.”