Airlines say rise in COVID-19 cases is hurting ticket sales

<p><p>DALLAS — Several leading U.S. airlines warned Thursday that the increase in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant is hurting their bookings and further delaying the travel industry’s recovery.</p></p><p><p>The summer got off to a strong start, with many planes full of vacationers eager to break out after being stuck at home for more than a year.</p></p><p><p>After months of improving travel numbers, however, August was disappointing.</p></p><p><p>Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said Thursday that people are still traveling, but key segments – business and international flyers – are still largely missing.</p></p><p><p>He said the increase in COVID-19 cases won’t derail the travel recovery but will delay it by 90 to 120 days.</p></p><p><p>Delta said it still expects to post an adjusted pretax profit for the third quarter, but revenue will be toward the lower end of its previous forecast.</p></p><p><p>United Airlines said its revenue is weaker than previously expected, and it forecast a pretax loss in the third quarter that could extend into the fourth quarter if the virus outbreak continues. It is trimming flights to match the lower demand.</p></p><p><p>American Airlines said a slowdown that started in August has continued into September, and the airline further lowered its outlook for third-quarter revenue.</p></p><p><p>Southwest Airlines reported that leisure travel has weakened, with more cancellations and softer bookings for September and October. Southwest said, however, booking patterns for the winter holidays look normal.</p></p><p><p>Airlines are watching COVID-19 numbers closely and finding hope in the latest figures showing the surge that started in July might have peaked. The seven-day average of cases is roughly flat compared with two weeks ago.</p></p><p><p>Airline executives say they believe bookings will pick up as soon as case counts go down.</p></p><p><p>“Things moved downward rather quickly, but they can, I think, move upwards just as quickly,” Andrew Nocella, United’s chief marketing officer, said during an investor conference held by financial-services firm Cowen.</p></p><p><p>Airline stocks fell shortly after trading began Thursday but then turned higher. By early afternoon, American was up 6% and others rose between 3% and 5%.</p></p><p><p>Americans have been willing to travel over the summer and during shorter holiday periods. Air travel over the Labor Day weekend approached 2019 levels – on two days, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2 million travelers.</p></p><p><p>By Wednesday, however, the number of people going through airport checkpoints dropped back to 1.4 million, down 28% from the comparable Wednesday in 2019.</p></p><p><p>United’s Nocella warned that travel is likely to slump in October, early November, and the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.</p></p><p><p>In a bid to reassure passengers worried about the virus, airlines have been pushing their employees to become vaccinated against COVID-19.</p></p><p><p>United <a href=”https://apnews.com/article/business-health-coronavirus-pandemic-airlines-5576d730ab547dea14de3a0709d808db” target=”—blank”>is requiring the shots</a> and says it will fire workers who don’t get vaccinated in the coming weeks or merit an exemption on medical or religious grounds.</p></p><p><p>A United executive said Wednesday that more than half of the previously unvaccinated employees have received a shot since the airline announced the requirement last month, although United refused to give precise numbers.</p></p><p><p>Delta employees on the company health plan <a href=”https://apnews.com/article/lifestyle-business-health-coronavirus-pandemic-06f736ac985d59c38c2ae8201f717d91″ target=”—blank”>face a $200 monthly surcharge</a> starting in November if they aren’t vaccinated.</p></p><p><p>On Thursday, the airline’s chief health officer, Dr. Henry Ting, said that nearly one-fifth of the 20,000 Delta employees who were unvaccinated when the surcharge was announced have decided to get the shots.</p></p><p><p>Ting called that “a huge number in terms of shifting that group that is most reluctant.”</p></p>