Of all the industries devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown—restaurants and bars, hotels and convention centers, movie theaters and shopping malls—the airlines’ situation is in a sense the worst. Most of the other businesses are suffering because they have been told to close. The airlines are suffering in part because they have been told to stay open. As a condition of the recent bailout packages, and in order to retain long-term rights to their routes, airlines need to keep flying ghost routes: planes with almost no passengers but a full flight crew and cabin staff.
When will the airlines return to “normal” as we knew it a few months ago? That was the question I asked everyone I spoke with. “Maybe five years,” one person said. “I think four years,” said an optimist. Another person guessed seven. “I think never,” said an airline pilot, now on indefinite furlough.
I don’t think it will take that long. I think as soon as airlines are given the all-clear, they will drastically lower fares and people will start flying again.