Summer rush: Vaccine drive bring hope to US airlines

The US airline industry is seeking a gradual improvement in the number of people taking to the skies. America’s two largest airlines are hoping that the figures will be somewhere comparable to pre-Covid times, and are preparing for the return to the new “normal”, though one is taking a more conservative approach than the other.

The US Transportation Security Administration reported that almost 2 million took advantage of the long Memorial Day weekend to fly, the highest number since the onset of the pandemic in March last year. Altogether 7.1 million people flew during the long weekend, 2.6 million lesser than in the 2019 weekend in May, but more than five times the number who flew in 2020.

United Airlines, in a statement, said that “throughout the pandemic, and as we begin to recover, [the airline] has continued to operate a network schedule to match capacity with demand”.

U.S. Airline Industry American Airlines

American Airlines has suffered the biggest setback with funds depleting from $3.8 billion in 2019 to minus $6.5 billion in 2020. (Image: Boeing 737, American Airlines)

According to the aviation data company Cirium, Texas-based American Airlines, the number one US carrier by passenger miles flown, has increased capacity for June and July. American is selling just 7 percent lesser seats than it sold in June 2019, and only 5 percent lower in July. United Airlines, the Chicago-based number two carrier by passenger miles, and which flies to more international destinations, is selling 30 percent fewer seats this month than it did in June 2019 and for July, it has set 20 percent fewer seats than in the same month two years ago.

“Schedules reflect differences in geographical exposures and strengths in addition to varying levels of aggressiveness or conservatism by managements,” said Savanthi Syth, an analyst at Raymond James. “American has definitely been more aggressive on recovery expectations relative to Delta and United. However, they have also benefited from greater exposure to domestic [routes].”

United has the highest percentage of international flights among the three big airlines, including Delta Air Lines.

But it historically schedules lesser summer flights, compared to the other two, says Jon Jager, an analyst at Cirium.

With international travel restricted with many countries still not fully open, United is not operating its smaller flights within the country to ferry passengers to the bigger international airport hubs. “There is a lack of international passengers to support their domestic flying,” Jager said.

The two biggest airlines both flew roughly the same scheduled capacity during the pandemic. Many advertised flights but canceled as there were no takers. United flew 80 percent of its scheduled flights in 2020, while American flew 77 per cent.

American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines lost more than $1 billion each in the pandemic year.

American and United are again hiring pilots for the first time since the pandemic began. Flight attendants and other ancillary staff will also be recalled, who were either furloughed or were putting in reduced hours.

“There is no doubt the pace of the recovery is accelerating,” American’s chief executive, Doug Parker, said. United had said earlier that it planned to add to Croatia, Greece and Iceland. Britain would also be added once travel restrictions are lifted.

Be as it may, the pandemic has not been eradicated fully, there are fears of new variants cropping up, the vaccine drive losing momentum and the spread of a new wave of the disease, similar to what is happening in some parts of the world. Corporate and leisure travel will still take some time to recover.

But the numbers are heartening and giving hope to an industry on the brink of disaster, with experts predicting bankruptcy for most airlines last year.

Christy Gren
Christy Gren is an Industry Specialist Reporter at Industry Leaders Magazine she enjoys writing about Unicorns, Silicon Valley, Startups, Business Leaders and Innovators. Her articles provide an insight about the Power Players in the field of Technology, Auto, Manufacturing, and F&B.

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