• Wed. Jun 22nd, 2022

As Delta Variant Soars, Airline Industry Sinks into Another Slump: NPR

The EU is removing the United States from its COVID-19 “safe list”, but airlines have already cut flights due to low booking rates. Some say vaccines should have been mandatory for travel months ago.



ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Airports won’t be as busy this Labor Day weekend compared to earlier summer, as the airline industry appears to be heading for another slump. Travel bookings are down and more would-be travelers are canceling plans as the delta variant spreads. NPR’s David Schaper has that story.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Flying an airplane shouldn’t feel like a roller coaster, but it certainly is for the airline industry. After the number of people flying fell by 96% at the start of the pandemic, it looked like it could never rebound. But this spring and early summer, it did. As vaccination rates took off, so did increasingly full planes. But just as some airlines thought they could finally return to profit, demand is falling again.

BRETT SNYDER: I think the drop is looking more and more a little more lost than they had hoped.

SCHAPER: Brett Snyder writes the airline industry blog The Cranky Flier.

SNYDER: They started to see some erosion in demand and they started to cut their schedules a bit.

SCHAPER: Snyder says that, overall, airlines are now reducing flights from their fall schedules. Adobe Digital Insights tracks flight booking data, and lead analyst Vivek Pandya said in June that bookings were growing so fast they were approaching 2019 record highs. But since…

VIVEK PANDYA: We’re starting to see this really dramatic drop in terms of bookings, especially for this late summer period, which we don’t usually see.

SCHAPER: The reason is the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases.

PANDYA: As the variant type was definitely taking hold and impacting many travel plans and considerations around travel, that’s when we started to see that momentum slow down.

SCHAPER: Pandya says flight bookings for August are down 33% from August 2019, and the number of people going through TSA airport security checkpoints this week has fallen to an all-time low since early May. Cranky Flier’s Brett Snyder notes that while leisure travel still slows down this time of year when kids return to school, what’s notable is the delta variant’s effect on vacation travel. potential business.

SNYDER: There were good signs that it was starting — that the recovery was really starting to pick up speed on the business travel side. But the delta variant threw this for a loop.

SCHAPER: And the EU’s decision this week to remove the United States from its safe travel list and recommend member countries reinstate travel restrictions for unvaccinated Americans will likely further reduce demand for air travel. The CDC says it’s safe for those who are fully vaccinated to fly, but the sharp rise in delta-variant COVID cases among the unvaccinated is leading to growing calls for the feds to demand arm shots to board an airplane.

PAUL WEINSTEIN: It’s really something the airlines themselves should probably want, because it provides peace of mind for passengers.

SCHAPER: Paul Weinstein is a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University, and he argues that making vaccines mandatory for those who travel will not only help slow the spread of the deadly virus, but it’s also good for the airline industry.

WEINSTEIN: I mean, if you know everyone on the plane has been vaccinated, then you’re much more likely not to cancel your travel plans and therefore not hurt the airline’s bottom line.

SCHAPER: Weinstein and others say requiring a vaccine for air travel could be the boost some unvaccinated people need to get vaccinated. But even if the Biden administration expands the mask mandate to board planes, trains and buses, for now, it seems unwilling to mandate vaccines for interstate travel.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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