This is an exceptionally interesting development, if true, both for the recovery in travel but also beyond that for understanding how the U.S. is responding to the Covid-19 epidemic as it progresses.
During Thursday morning’s United Airlines third quarter earnings call, airline CEO Scott Kirby reiterated his view that we won’t see full recovery of air travel until there’s a widely available vaccine, which he anticipates in the second half of 2021. (There are plenty of people who expect to see it in the second quarter, but Kirby has been the most cautious throughout the pandemic of U.S. airline CEOs.)
However the airline also said that there appears to be a decoupling of travel bookings from the course of the virus, offering that “back in june when we saw a spike in cases we saw a direct and negative impact” on July and August bookings. However “over the last 8 weeks or so” the airline has seen steady progress in domestic bookings growth even has headlines and cases have moved both in a positive and negative direction.
- That’s growth in leisure demand, not business demand, but they offered not seeing a falloff in travel demand even as cases have grown recently which is “from business perspective nice to see.”
- At the same time we’re seeing a rise in total reported U.S. cases again, as well as cases in Europe.
- United notes the numbers they’re seeing on consumer apprehension about travel “are at the lowest level during the pandemic.”
In order to project real recovery what United is looking towards is people back in their offices for work. The “occupancy rate of New York City skyscrapers is a metric” they’re looking at since people back in offices will mean a return to business travel – both by the companies that are back, and for those who would travel to go see them.
US hotels by the way are back to 50% occupancy, whereas about 67% is ‘normal’ this time of year. TSA security checkpoint throughput continues to grow slowly at best, though it did nearly hit one million passengers a day twice in the past week, but it hasn’t appeared to fall with rising virus stories or numbers.