The passengers might not have returned completely, but airlines’ confidence seems to have. After a year in which they had to rely on three separate government bailouts, totaling tens of billions of dollars, the major airlines are starting to rehire laid-off pilots, baggage handlers, and flight attendants; reschedule flight routes; and rebuild their fleets. Still, the effects of the pandemic remain persistent. International travel continues to be severely restricted, whereas relatively short domestic flights are more popular. To serve those routes, the airlines are turning to their larger aircraft, which previously would have been reserved for long haul flights. That strategic choice offers a couple of benefits, in that it enables passengers who still prefer social distancing to spread out more, and it enables the airlines to use the plane inventory they have on hand. Business travel still is sparse too, which remains a challenge for airlines that often depend on price-insensitive workers who will pay more to get to a critical meeting. If they can keep holding those meetings via Zoom though, that segment of the market might never completely recover. Still, compared with just a few months ago, things are substantially better, to the extent that Southwest even announced a small profit in a recent quarter. For an industry that seemed on the precipice of collapse, such outcomes were tough to imagine yesterday, but deeply satisfying to encounter today.
Source: Niraj Chokshi, “Once Crippled by the Pandemic, Airlines See a Fast Recovery Coming,” The New York Times, April 22, 2021