Air Travel Demand Will Return With a Vaccine, Says United Airlines CEO

Empty airports are going to be around for a while.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby predicts passenger levels will not return to normal until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, according to a report on CNBC.

Airport passenger levels sunk 95 percent at the peak of the pandemic, but demand hasn’t come back very much. Currently, traffic is still down 70 percent six months into the outbreak, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

“There’ll be huge pent-up demand for leisure travel, for business travel, for people to get back out on the road,” Kirby told NBC during a recent interview.

However, Kirby is prepared for a tough year. According to the CNBC report, United is burning through $40 million per day and has parked approximately 40 percent of its fleet. The airline could also cut 36,000 jobs.

United does not believe it will see 2019 passenger levels until 2024.

While the development of a vaccine will be a positive step in getting travelers back on the road, availability will be key.

“At first, there will likely be a limited supply of one or more of the Covid-19 vaccines, because limited doses will be available,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a conference call with reporters.

Kirby noted that United is taking on a lot of debt in order to stay afloat but believes the airline will survive but be smaller.

“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s still a long tunnel, unfortunately, but I feel increasingly confident,” he said.

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