U.S. Airlines Are Alarmed About a Coronavirus Slump

U.S. Airlines Are Alarmed About a Coronavirus Slump


JFK airport doesn’t usually look like this.
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

On Tuesday, United Airlines president Scott Kirby made a stunning announcement: In recent days, the airline’s net bookings for domestic travel (that is, bookings minus cancellations) are down 70 percent. Net bookings to Europe and Asia are down 100 percent, meaning that as many customers are canceling their trips as are booking new ones. The airline is planning to take in 70 percent less revenue this April than it did last April, and it expects revenue drag to persist through the year even, as the coronavirus situation improves.

Kirby made these remarks to J.P. Morgan’s Industrials Conference for investors, where top executives from competitors including Delta Air Lines and American Airlines also spoke. And as Gary Leff notes, the presentations from the three airlines were remarkably different in tone: American CEO Doug Parker opened his remarks by talking about the coronavirus — announcing less aggressive schedule reductions than his main competitors — and then moved on to an upbeat discussion of longer-term initiatives, like an expansion of the airline’s Dallas–Fort Worth hub. Delta CEO Ed Bastian struck a tone somewhere between his counterparts from United and American, projecting a material drop in traffic. In March, Delta expects its domestic flights to operate 65 to 70 percent full, about a 20 percent decline from a year earlier.



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