After the Coronavirus, Which Airlines Will Be Left Standing?

One set of predictions forecasts large changes throughout the industry

787 in flight
The world of airlines post-coronavirus could look very different.
GeXeS/Creative Commons

The effects of the coronavirus on the airline industry has been massive so far — from government assistance to talk of significant layoffs. The question of what it might be like to fly once the dangers of the current pandemic have lessened is a significant one. Another one that looms large: which of the airlines travelers are used to flying will be around then?

If the demand for air travel stays low, however, it’s likely that some airlines might not weather that shift in the industry — something which could lead to countless lost jobs at airlines and throughout the world of air travel.

At Airfarewatchdog, Peter Thornton explored the question of which airlines are the most and least likely to emerge intact from the current downturn in the industry. His focus is largely on domestic airlines: international airlines are also covered in his report, but in less detail. Thornton argues that most major US airlines — American, Delta, Southwest, Spirit and United — will still be flying once COVID-19 is less of a threat, albeit with potential changes in their route map.

His list of “on the fence” airlines offers more complexity. JetBlue is present there, though he makes the case that they are the airline in the group he’s most optimistic about. He offers less confidence for, say, Frontier Airlines.

“If it can obtain waivers to the minimum service requirements for the 36 cities it has applied for, Frontier will have a better chance of surviving,” Thornton writes. “But if it takes an extended time for leisure travelers to start flying the friendly skies, I don’t see much room for Frontier Airlines to keep flying.”

Several other US airlines and a large group of international airlines make up the category of airlines which “will have the most trouble surviving this crisis.” That includes some, like Norwegian Air, which had already had financial issues before the current crisis began.

Thornton’s article makes for sobering reading, given its implications for an industry with wide-ranging employment and deep ties to a host of other fields. Will his predictions prove to be accurate? We’ll see what the coming months and years have in store.

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