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US travellers getting back in the sky as industry continues recovery

written by Hannah Dowling | March 17, 2021

A file image of a Delta Boeing 777-200LR. (Delta Air Lines)
A file image of a Delta Boeing 777-200LR. (Delta Air Lines)

The US airline industry continues to gear up for recovery, as passenger thoroughfare through US airports hits a year-on-year high.

According to figures from the US Transportation Security Administration, over 2.5 million people passed through airport checkpoints over the weekend.

The TSA reported that 1.4 million people passed through on Friday alone, making it the busiest day for air travel in a year, since restrictions on movement were introduced in the US on 15 March 2020.

At the same time, the US continues to push through its vaccination program, with over 20 per cent of the population having now received their first dose of the vaccine.

The seven-day rolling average number of new COVID cases has also fallen below 50,000 per day for the first time since October last year, down from its peak at over 250,000 cases per day in mid-January.

In response, US airlines are feeling largely optimistic about an imminent rebound in leisure travel.

“It feels like the beginning of the end,” Southwest Airlines’ chief executive Gary Kelly said, while forecasting that the airline could achieve break even by June, despite posting its first full-year loss in 47 years in 2020.


Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines chief executive Ed Bastian stated he sees “glimmers of hope” for an industry-wide recovery, particularly in light of improving daily net cash sales, which have improved 30 per cent in the first two weeks of March.

In relation to forward bookings, Bastian said “we are getting really close to 2019 numbers”.

Delta is looking to recover quicker than rival Southwest, with Bastian stating he expects the company to break even on cash flow by the end of this month.

In a regulatory filing, United Airlines is also reporting to break even this month, should the growing momentum in future bookings continue.

Despite momentum growing in the US travel industry, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to warn against non-essential travel.

CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky expressed her concern over the growing traveller figures coming from the TSA, and again warned Americans not to “relax” despite lowering COVID figures.

Dr Walensky said: “[Friday] is the most travellers that we’ve had in a single day since last March, before the WHO [World Health Organization] declared the global pandemic.

“We have seen footage of people enjoying spring break festivities maskless. This is all in the context of still 50,000 cases per day.”

The CDC recently revealed its guidelines for fully-vaccinated Americans, which said fully vaccinated people should feel free to meet other fully-vaccinated people or low-risk non-vaccinated people without face masks or social distancing.

However, the agency did extend its advice against all non-essential travel to fully-vaccinated people.

At the time, Dr Walensky said: “Every time there’s a surge in travel, we have a surge in cases in this country.”

Dr Walensky added that the guidance will be revisited when more people in the US, and around the world, have been fully vaccinated.

“We are really trying to restrain travel at this current period of time, and we’re hopeful that our next set of guidance will have more science around what vaccinated people can do, perhaps travel being among them,” she said.


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