Unfriendly Skies: Pandemic Slams Airline Industry

The coronavirus pandemic has created major turbulence for airlines, and it could lead to a tailspin lasting for months or years. That is the prediction of analysts, who say the "Big Three" U.S. airlines---Delta, United and American---could shed more than 100,000 jobs by the fall.

The sudden drop in domestic and worldwide travel combined with loss of business activity has resulted in airlines slashing flight schedules and half-full flights, pushing the industry into uncharted territory. "I think most major airlines would report that the effects of coronavirus actually exceed the negative effects after 9-11," says Josh Verde, Houston attorney and aviation expert.

Verde thinks that 100,000-job loss number doesn't sound far-fetched. "(Airlines) have already begun the process of offering voluntary leaves of absence and voluntary furloughs, and then they'll move into the involuntary realm," he tells KTRH. "And I think that is 100 percent driven by decreased demand...without planes in the air there's just a substantially lower need for labor to support those planes."

For travelers, this means cheaper and less-crowded flights for now...but that may not be the new normal. "I'm not so sure that we're guaranteed to see huge, deep discounts in airline fares once everything gets back to normal," says Verde.

As for permanent changes to flight capacity to increase social distancing, Verde isn't holding his breath on that, either. "Aside from doing things like blocking seats and underselling the capacity of the aircraft, I'm not so sure that cabin configuration changes are cost-effective for airlines," he says.

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