Global Air Travel Down 85 Percent From Same Time Last Year, Industry Experts Say

Global air travel is down 85 percent from this same time one year ago, airline industry experts say.

Airline trade groups, including the International Air Transport Association, say carriers will lose $84 billion this year, making it the worst year in the industry's history. Standard & Poor's said the airline industry's prospects have gone "from bad to worse" as air traffic has dropped overwhelmingly amid the coronavirus pandemic—much worse than the S&P's "worst-case scenario" predictions in May.

And now airline industry executives are also coming to terms with massive ongoing losses, with air traffic at Europe's more than 500 airports falling 94 percent in June compared to 2019.

"We were all hoping that by the fall the virus might run its course," said Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly. "Obviously, that has proven to be dead wrong."

In the United States, the four largest airlines have lost a combined $10 billion from April through June, but their CEOs say the companies will survive—they just may not rebound for years. Several carriers have filed for bankruptcy protection in addition to receiving massive bailout money from Congress' Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March.

U.S. air travel picked up slightly after a 95 percent decrease in April, but it is still down 74 percent in July and 72 percent so far in August from this same time last year.

In May, the aviation consulting group CAPA predicted that "most airlines in the world will be bankrupt" if they don't receive billions more in government bailouts. U.K.-based Flybe and Latin America's two largest airlines—Avianca and Latam—all filed for bankruptcy protections this year. Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia and Aeroamexico are all using the court system to diminish their debts.

A June survey of more than 1,000 people in Consumer Reports found that 70 percent said they believe flying to be either very or somewhat unsafe. Respondents said a trip to a hospital emergency room or standing in line outside of a polling place would be safer than flying in an airplane. An airline trade group survey conducted this summer found air travelers' biggest concern was potentially being seated next to a person infected with COVID-19.

Airlines say added cleaning measures, facial covering requirements and the elimination of food service have not reassured scared flyers. Many airlines were not booking middle seats and putting capacity caps on flights. But several including United and American have started trying to book flights to full capacity—something that has become rare.

"You can smell the cleaning fog that's been done, and everything is wiped down basically top to bottom—chairs, window shades, even the light switches and overhead bins," said Jason Bounds, a veteran flight attendant at Delta Air Lines.

Newsweek reached out to the IATA and several airlines for additional remarks about the ongoing pandemic problems with air travel Monday morning but did not hear back in time for publication.

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Global air travel is down 85 percent from this same time one year ago, airline industry expert say. ANDREW LICHTENSTEIN / Contibutor/Getty Images