Airline traffic rising as COVID-related restrictions ease

U.S. & World

(NBC) – As coronavirus-related restrictions begin to ease throughout the country, airline traffic is seeing a slow uptick.

Despite these gains, airlines have only regained a small fraction of the passengers lost during the pandemic.

With most wearing masks, airline passengers are coming back. The most recent week showed daily passenger levels in the U.S. averaging 361,000 travelers, far higher than just a few weeks ago.

Over the weekend, the U.S. saw daily passenger levels top 400,000 for the first time since mid-March.

While that is substantially higher than the low point in mid-April, passenger levels are still down more than 80% compared to business before the coronavirus pandemic.

“We think in July we are probably going to fly about half of our original schedule, August a bit stronger than July, so again, we are seeing pickup in leisure. I think the question that we have is what happens to business travel and how long does that really take to come back,” said JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes.

Convincing travelers they won’t catch COVID-19 is a primary goal for airlines.

Some, like Frontier, have added temperature checks before boarding. Others like Delta are keeping middle seats empty and capping how many people are on board.

And airlines, like JetBlue, are insisting customers wear a mask for their flight.

“When they board the airplane, if they won’t wear a mask then we won’t board them, we do have ones to ask them to wear if they have forgotten or they don’t have one,” Hayes said.

The big challenge? Bringing back the business traveler — the most profitable customer for airlines.

Right now, most of those corporate travelers are not getting back on the road anytime soon, which raises the question, are investors pushing airline stocks too far, too fast? In the last month, shares of U.S. carriers have jumped 79% even though all airlines say they expect negative cash flow through the end of the year.

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