Athens-Boston Tickets Selling “Like Hotcakes”

The new direct flights make it easier and only slightly more expensive for Greek diaspora and others to travel between the two cities.


Katerina Makatouni landed in Athens feeling refreshed and ready to adapt to the local time zone, one of thousands of passengers enjoying the ease of traveling directly from Boston in the United States to the Greek capital.

“For years, the traveling to Greece with the kids for the summer holidays meant a great deal of stress about the flight, which took 17 hours at best and 25 hours at worst due to the stopover,” Makatouni told newspaper Kathimerini, explaining that it was especially tough for young children.

 

“On the night-time flight from Boston to Athens, passengers can sleep through the night and get to Athens in time to catch their connections to all of the islands,” says Marina Hatsopoulos, a tech entrepreneur and a member – along with fellow Greek-Americans Nick Mitropoulos, Stephanie Orphanos and Makatouni – of the task force put together in 2018 by the former Greek consul general in Boston, Stratos Efthymiou, to carry out the ambitious project of reconnecting the two cities by air.

“The diaspora had always been asking for a direct flight and it was one of the first issues that were brought to my attention at the start of my tenure,” says Efthymiou, who put the matter of reviving the connection high on the consulate’s agenda.

Boston had been connected to Athens by Olympic Air, but the service stopped 25 years ago even though the data show that with roughly 100,000 members, the Greek-American community in New England is among the largest in the United States. Apart from those who maintain ties with their ancestral roots, many New Englanders also have business interests in Greece.

“From the start we wanted to ascertain whether a new flight would be of commercial interest to the airport but also to an airline,” Efthymiou told Kathimerini, explaining that he reached out to members of the diaspora with expertise in this area first. Their response was overwhelming and that is what led to the creation of the task force, which met regularly. One of the most important pieces of initial information came from Giorgos Zacharia, the president of travel tool Kayak, who noted that there were as many clicks for “Boston-Athens” as there were for “Boston-Rome.” The next step was carried out by Makatouni, a marketing expert, who organized a volunteer-run market survey.

As things progressed over in Boston, Athens International Airport took an interest in the new suggested connection. “It was a happy coincidence, a real rallying of the Greek forces on both sides of the Atlantic,” communications and marketing director Ioanna Papadopoulou, who is responsible for expanding the network of air links between Athens and other cities, told the newspaper.

 

“Demand played a vital role in our planning. Then there are numerous geopolitical and macroeconomic factors to take into consideration, as we work with a long-term horizon. We also keep an eye on the growth of carriers’ fleets so that we know when it’s the right time to approach them,” she explains.

However, even the most experienced pundits could not have predicted the pandemic and the havoc it brought to air travel. “We had clinched direct flights from Shanghai and New Delhi to Athens before the pandemic and unfortunately, they have still not taken place,” said Papadopoulou.

Once the initial shock of the health crisis eased, the task force regrouped and set its eyes back on the prize. “The successful reopening of tourism in the summer of 2021 was pivotal,” explained Efthymiou. “The implementation of the health protocols reassured American travelers and operators.”

The airport at Boston, meanwhile, had noted the steady increase in travel between the US and Greece and the idea of a connection to Athens gradually matured.

As a result of all these developments, Delta Airlines announced a direct flight between Boston and Athens, three times a week, from late May until the end of October.

“Tickets for this flight are selling like hotcakes because it is so much easier for travelers and only slightly more expensive,” says Penny Hamourgas, a travel agent in Lowell, Massachusetts, with 35 years in the business.

“My estimate is that Delta will increase frequency once it sees the profits. This is the first time I have seen so much traffic for Greece, while we also have Americans making the flight who couldn’t even place the country on the map,” she adds.

Market survey

“We sent out the questionnaire at a very inappropriate time, on New Year’s Eve,” recounted Katerina Makatouni, who carried out a survey of interest in a Boston-Athens flight on a voluntary basis. “People usually don’t even bother opening their emails on holidays like this, yet we got 1,500 responses in 48 hours.”

In total, by January 7, 2019, 2,830 questionnaires had been sent back. The survey found that:

 

• 73% of participants travel to Greece at least once a year.

• The duration of the journey comes second to its cost as a consideration.

• 90% of those making the trip once would consider a second one if there was a direct flight.

• 83% of those who were not traveling to Greece would consider doing so if there was a direct flight.

This article was previously published at ekathimerini.com.



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