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A Lot of ‘Ifs’

Madhu Unnikrishnan

August 3rd, 2020

In this week’s feature story, Senior Analyst Jay Shabat takes an in-depth look into the phases of the pandemic for U.S. airlines. We all know the second quarter was awful. But what comes next? What are the next phases of the recovery?

Much of how the fall turns out for airlines depends on Congress and whether another federal stimulus will support the industry. Will schools re-open? Will passengers want to travel when the coronavirus is rampaging in many leisure destinations?

On today’s episode of “Mondays With Skift Airline Weekly,” Brett “The Cranky Flier” Snyder said travelers are “gun shy” to buy tickets. In late May and early June, pent-up demand for summer vacations fueled the beginnings of a recovery, but as the virus spread, that recovery was quashed. Now, Snyder says, people are thinking twice about going on a summer vacation, and the fall could be lost as well.

What about next year? Shabat says a lot rides on whether it’s safe to travel to Florida, currently a Covid hotspot. International travel probably is on ice for longer. And business travel is unlikely to return at anything approaching pre-pandemic levels by early next year, Snyder adds.

And beyond next year? IATA predicts the recovery won’t come until 2024. European airport operator Aena is gaming out a worst-case scenario for a 2027 recovery. Airlines could return to profitability quickly, if travel begins to rebound, thanks to low fuel costs and the benefits that already accrued from consolidation a decade ago.

But there are still a lot of “ifs.” If an effective vaccine is developed (and enough people actually take it). If travel restrictions ease (and global tensions don’t spike). If business travel returns to the 2019 levels. If the economy starts to recover (or continues off a cliff). If people have enough discretionary income for leisure travel.

Snyder pointed out we knew very little about the pandemic’s effect on travel as recently as May. Now a clearer picture is emerging, but much is still unknown, and indeed, unknowable.

Madhu Unnikrishnan

August 3rd, 2020

 Tomás Del Coro

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