Americans are flying again. There are fewer seats in the sky compared to before COVID-19, but as more people are vaccinated and succumb to pandemic fatigue, more people are heading to airports and taking off.
More than 1 million people have passed through TSA checkpoints each day over the past month. While that’s about 50 percent of the pre-pandemic traffic, it represents a fast recovery from what airlines were experiencing just two months ago. And it will continue climbing. In early April, the Centers for Disease Control revised its domestic travel recommendations to say, “People who are fully vaccinated … can travel safely within the United States.”
Travelers and investors will get an update on the industry in the week ahead when Delta Air Lines releases its first-quarter results on Thursday. The company is expected to continue a string of quarterly losses. Beyond the COVID-induced losses, investors will key in on how the company characterizes the travel rebound. Importantly, how it is balancing the return of passengers with available seats. Already, it is the last major airline to announce it will reopen middle seats for passengers beginning May 1. Cheap fares may help overcome passenger anxiety for now, but the company will work to return to profitability even as the more lucrative business travelers continue logging on to virtual meetings instead of packing their bags.
Delta executives also will have to address politics on their conference call. The company is based in Atlanta and has found itself reluctantly pulled into the debate over Georgia’s new voting law. After the law passed, CEO Ed Bastian released a statement praising the legislation that “improved considerably during the legislative process.” Four days later, in a publicly released memo to employees, Bastian wrote, “The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie.”
The airline industry is a real-time gauge of consumer confidence during COVID. With Delta stock near a pandemic high, investors want to seek further down the runway.