Airplane travel has dramatically decreased as the globe continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and the airline industry is suffering. Southwest Airlines posted its first quarterly loss since 2011, and it doesn’t expect the industry to see relief any time soon. According to a survey by the International Air Transportation Association, 40% of recent travelers said they might skip flying for at least six months after the pandemic ends. In mid-April, airplane travel was down 58% from this time last year, and flights that are still taking off are often only between 5-15% full.
In reality, the industry could take years to recover.
Changes must be made to keep airlines solvent and keep passengers as safe as possible. Here are a few ways the airlines are responding to their new reality.
Face masks are becoming more common
Beginning May 4, JetBlue will require passengers to wear face masks. The airline is calling it “the new flying etiquette.” On April 30, Delta, American, United, and Frontier said they would do the same. One day later, Southwest joined the club.
“We know that masks are one of the most effective tools to mitigate people’s risk of exposure when those around them are also wearing masks,’” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) wrote in a letter to the FAA, via USA Today. “As air travel continues to increase while the country slowly starts to reopen, it’s imperative that the flying public feel safe and comfortable in doing so. This should include the requirement of masks, which will accomplish this goal and protect both crew members and passengers.”
Delta has been providing masks to those travelers who don’t have them, and American said it will do the same and begin giving out sanitizing wipes or gels beginning in early May. Now, both have made wearing masks a requirement.
“We’re moving quickly on these enhancements and we’ll continue to improve the travel experience for our customers and team members as we navigate these times together,” Kurt Stache, American’s senior vice president of customer experience, said in a statement.
You can more easily avoid the middle seat
For those people who hate being stuck in the middle seat—and if you’re reading this, that’s probably you—there’s some good news. A number of airlines have banned or minimized its usage for now to maintain some semblance of social distancing.
Don’t expect that guidance to last forever.
“Long term, however, it is not economically sustainable,” Daniel Baron, the managing director of LIFT Aero Design, told the BBC. “After the dust settles, we will all go back to expecting affordable global mobility again. To enable the fares for that, especially if total capacity has been reduced, airlines will need bums in all seats.”
Free in-flight airline magazines might become a relic of the past
Since airlines are trying to keep their planes as sanitary as possible, the free in-flight airline magazines that you find in your seat pocket to pass the time by reading celebrity features, perusing the best steakhouses (and cardiologists) in the country, and plowing through crossword and Sudoku puzzles have been removed.
Delta pulled Sky magazine. Southwest’s version hasn’t been published since March 2020. And Alaska Airlines’ Beyond has disappeared. The combined circulation of in-flight magazines are in the tens of millions, and hundreds of millions of readers flip through the periodicals each month.
It’s unclear how many of these magazines will return once the pandemic is finished. But as Dana Raidt wrote on Twitter in late March (via The Points Guy), “It seems like such a minor thing among all that’s happening, but just a heads up that the Delta Sky magazine team (including me) has been laid off and the mag is no more. I was deputy editor there; it was such a great job and a truly wonderful team. I will miss it.”