At the onset of Covid-19, airline passenger traffic plunged 95% in the U.S. but began to recover in May. When the Covid cases spiked in July, travel demand stalled for seven weeks. Labor Day weekend broke us out of that stagnation and the highest number of passengers flew out of ICT since the pandemic hit.
ICT’s growth since the first week in May is outpacing the U.S. growth, but we have a long way to go. The growth has been mostly from the leisure traveler. Surprisingly, last week showed the most growth since the pandemic hit. Perhaps the business traveler is returning to the skies.
The CARES Act provided a $50B coronavirus aid package to airlines with the mandate that airlines continue to provide a minimum level of service to all the destinations they had served prior to the pandemic (some airlines were exempted). Also, airline employees must keep their jobs and pay. Those requirements end September 30.
On October 1, airlines will have to cover the cost of salaries again, which amounted to $12.6B in 2019, or 33% of the operating expenses. Airlines have already begun reducing flights and warning employees of furloughs and layoffs.
U.S. carriers are pushing Congress for more financial support. Congress is considering a PSP expansion as part of an additional round of pandemic-related relief, but Democrats and Republicans are at a standstill. Senate Republicans introduced a bill on Sept. 21 to extend PSP through March 21. The Air Carrier Worker Support Extension Act, introduced by a pair of Senate Republicans, seeks to bypass congressional gridlock surrounding a larger coronavirus relief package by making airline industry aid into a standalone bill. About $28 billion is earmarked for passenger airlines, cargo airlines and contractors. The additional relief is needed to prevent more than 60,000 aviation sector employees from losing their jobs beginning Oct. 1.1 This is what we know:
- Southwest plans to cut 40% of its flights from the October schedule – that means 35,000 fewer flights. In Wichita, Southwest will add Denver and suspend Phoenix and Las Vegas.
- American suspended all service in 15 cities-not Wichita.
- American plans to furlough up to 25,000 workers this fall.
- Spirit Airlines may furlough 20% to 30% of employees.
- Alaska Airlines may lay off 1,600 Washington state employees.
- United plans to cut more than 16,370 jobs starting October 1. The cuts include 2,850 pilot jobs this year, or about 21% of the total, without further U.S. government aid.
- Delta plans to furlough 1,941 pilots in October. Close to 2,000 pilots have already applied for early retirements.
- Delta asked 3,000 flight attendants to take unpaid leave and work shorter schedules to avoid furloughs.
Comparing August to October, domestic scheduled passenger airlines have cut over 2.4 million seats (-4.6%) and 16,800 flights (-4.2%) from their network.
With passengers booking flights within about 30 days, most airlines have had to adjust and are publishing short-term schedules – mostly 60 days out instead of at least six months out. Airlines are monitoring demand and will adjust capacity where needed.
If you are considering flying for Thanksgiving, there will be additional capacity in November. In fact, based on what is scheduled, Wichita will have as many as 35 weekly flights, which is about the same as last year.
If you fly, remember these basic requirements:
- Wear a mask in the terminal and on the plane
- Maintain a 6 ft. distance from people who are not in your party
- Wash hands and use hand sanitizer often
- Don’t travel if you are not feeling well
Depending on the length of your flight, your airline may not be serving snacks or drinks; bring a snack with you. Refer to these tips and links to helpful information at ICTReadyToFly.