While the coronavirus pandemic has been detrimental for many industries, none have taken a hit quite as hard as the airline industry. With fears surrounding COVID-19, government-mandated stay-at-home orders, and the CDC advising people to limit nonessential travel, airlines are seeing a significant drop in flight demand and are struggling to find ways to recoup their losses.
Although this pandemic will not last forever, many stakeholders in the airline industry are left wondering exactly when to expect air travel to return to normal?
While no one knows for sure, we can get a rough idea of what to expect by looking at other periods of time when fear and public safety concerns led to a decline in travel spending. According to analyst Helane Booker, the sharp drop in air travel demand due to the coronavirus is similar to the drop airlines experienced in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Between 2001 and 2002, the U.S. airline industry experienced a 30% drop in demand. Currently, due to the ongoing pandemic, United Airlines has seen a 25% decline and Delta Airlines has experienced a drop between 25-35%.
In addition to travel fears, there are many economic elements that also factor into the decline in air travel that airlines are currently experiencing. The techniques airlines used to bounce back from low demand after 9/11 can also be useful today.
Here are two ways that airlines recovered from the aftermath of 9/11 and how these steps can apply to the current travel fears surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
After 9/11, many airlines reduced airfare in order to encourage passengers to begin flying again. Reduced airfare was enticing enough to help rebuild interest in flying, helping airlines take steps toward recovery.
In order to bounce back from this pandemic, airlines will also need to consider significantly reducing airfare, as many airlines are already doing. With over 22 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits in April of 2020, many simply cannot afford to fly right now without discounted flight prices.
Change public perception of flying
The 9/11 attacks were tragic and frightening, and they left many Americans terrified at the prospect of traveling by plane in the future. In order to help assuage these fears, airlines enacted new safety measures including stricter passenger and baggage screening, which helped people begin to feel safer when flying in the U.S.
Airlines are taking a similar approach to handle fears surrounding COVID-19. Many airlines are now sending emails detailing new cleaning and health protocols, which help assure passengers that they will be able to travel safely.
While it might seem scary to fly right now, things will get better, just like they did after the September 11 attacks.
It took roughly two years for airlines to begin to see pre-9/11 numbers after the terror attacks and as many as 10 years for a full recovery, so it is only natural that it will take time for airlines to recover after this pandemic. As long as airlines prioritize safety and remind passengers that we are all in this together, they will eventually be able to overcome this economic slump.