Logan International Airport spent years positioning itself as a major international hub, with airlines steadily expanding their overseas destinations over the past two decades to connect Boston to major foreign cities from Brussels to Seoul.
The coronavirus pandemic brought that momentum to an abrupt halt as Logan — like airports across the country — saw global travel collapse.
More than a year later, many countries are still restricting most leisure and business travel as the virus maintains its grip over much of the world. Between March 15 and April 15, international travel from Logan was just 15 percent of the total from the same span in 2019. There are currently 26 international destinations out of Logan, about half the number from before the pandemic, though more than double from the chaotic days of last spring.
Airport officials said they are confident that Logan will eventually regain its status as a significant international airport as vaccination rates pick up, the pandemic recedes, and border restrictions are relaxed.
“The city of Boston is attractive, the economic fundamentals are sound, and the airlines are smart,” said Lisa Wieland, chief executive at the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan. “If you think of the industries that are concentrated here — higher education and hospitals — those are travel-intensive industries . . . the international carriers have reiterated their interest in resuming service at Logan.”
Despite the unprecedented decline in demand, Logan officials have moved forward with plans to add four new gates at its crowded international terminal. But future plans to add another three gates have been put on pause by the pandemic, a sign of the long-term uncertainties facing the industry and the airport.
“Phase two will happen when we have a finance plan and the passenger demand resurfaces,” said Jennifer Mehigan, a Massport spokeswoman.
While modest, there are some signs that international travel is picking up, with the number of passengers in that March-to-April window doubling compared to a similar one-month period last July and August.
Domestic travel out of Boston is increasing more quickly but still lags far behind prepandemic levels. In March, Logan saw passenger totals climb to about 30 percent of 2019 levels, up from much lower rates earlier in the pandemic. At a recent public meeting, Massport aviation director Ed Freni described the improved numbers as “good indications of recovery.”
Things picked up more in April. About 25,700 people a day passed Logan security checks on a typical April day, compared to 18,800 in March, 14,800 in February, and 11,700 in January, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
Yet Logan trails other US airports in some important metrics. For example, airlines this spring are offering less than two-thirds of Logan’s prepandemic domestic capacity, compared to about 85 percent nationwide. Massport officials attribute the discrepancy to disruptions to business and student travel, noting that airlines are focusing more on leisure travel.
Overall, Logan now serves 92 destinations, up considerably since last spring when the roster had dropped to 72. Flights to Tokyo, Paris, and Dubai are now available, after being dropped earlier in the pandemic, according to a Globe analysis. But before the pandemic, Logan featured more than 125 total destinations.
Some new international flights are also on the horizon. Delta is soon launching service to Iceland, taking advantage of that tourism-driven country’s reopening to Americans. And JetBlue recently announced it will soon bring Bostonians to Vancouver. But the Canadian border is still closed, and that flight won’t launch until mid-2022.
It remains complicated to travel internationally, although rules differ from place to place. Many countries, including much of Europe, still bar Americans. The United Kingdom is technically open to Americans, but requires intense testing and quarantine rules. But Americans have been able to travel to Mexico throughout the pandemic. Many overseas flights are largely serving travelers taking essential trips, dual citizens, or in some cases, just cargo, and are operating at much lower frequencies.
“ ‘International’ is one word, but there is not one approach when it comes to reopening the world,” said Henry Harteveldt of the Atmosphere Research Group, a California firm that monitors the travel industry. “Airlines are rebuilding their route networks, but they’re not offering anything like the frequencies” from before the pandemic.
But with the US vaccine drive leading the world, the slate of destinations may soon widen. Greece and Iceland are among the countries that recently announced they will accept vaccinated American tourists. Other European countries are likely to follow in the coming months, possibly by the end of June. These decisions are matters of both public health and global politics.
“There are going to be a lot of carefully discussed and negotiated diplomatic meetings between the US and other countries about reopening borders,” Harteveldt said.
Other factors will determine the timing of the recovery as well, including the return of business travel. Wieland, however, said she expects international travel to rebound at Logan “over the next couple of years.”
“Domestic is going to come back before international, and leisure travel will come back before business. What percentage will return, what might be lost forever? I think only time will tell,” she said. But, “all of the international carriers that have operated at Logan prepandemic are interested in resuming at Logan. It’s a matter of when.”