With the global pandemic of COVID-19 now entering its third month, signs of a return to normality are starting to rise with some airlines as Governments around the world outline a “new norm” plan to reopen their borders. Such news have prompted future passengers to book flights with some airlines having acknowledged an increase in bookings.
However, the travel industry remains stagnate with the majority of global airline fleets grounded and not expected to reach pre-2020 level of travel until 2022. This also puts into question the future of airlines, big and small, as the prolonged effects of COVID-19 bankrupt some notable airlines such as Virgin Australia, Miami Air International and Avianca (AVHOQ) , who, had just celebrated their 100th anniversary in December 2019.
CEO of U.S. based jetBlue Airways, Robin Hayes, was recently interviewed by The Associated Press about his views on passengers safety while traveling, the types of trips people most likely will take first and how much of a change COVID-19 will bring to the airline industry. Haynes noted that for the month of June jetBlue will be flying between 25%-30% of their normal schedule after confirming that seat bookings have outpaced cancellations for the time in weeks.
Social distancing will continue to play a part in flight operation for both passengers and crew. jetBlue flights will be capped at 60% occupancy, reaffirming passengers that no one will sit next to each other unless part of a travel party. Furthermore, crew members will be cleaning and disinfecting aircraft more often.
Hayes says that the protocols in place for flights should be “no different than a trip to the grocery store or something that they may be doing.”
jetBlue was the first U.S airline to make face covering for both passengers and crew mandatory and support temperature checks being performed by TSA.
Hayes said: “We think that should be performed as a government function. so it’s consistent across how that is performed. I think all of these things add together to keep aviation safe.”
When asked about leisure travel, Hayes said the airlines’ route network is “well-positioned” to recover quickly as 70% of jetBlue’s route are domestic. As for the remaining routes, which span across the Caribbean and Central America, he said: “I think these international markets will recover more quickly than longer-haul markets.”
The airline however, just like many across the world, is losing a lot of money daily. “About $10 million a day. That assumes zero revenue. Our plan is to reduce that down to between $7 million and $9 million a day in the third quarter because we do expect to see some improvement,” said Hayes.
In jetBlue’s 20 year history, not one employee was laid-off and that’s something that Hayes is proud of. However when asked if there will any future layoffs, he revealed that by October jetBlue will reemerge as a smaller airline and that if it escalates, “the intent is to manage it through voluntary means and only move to involuntary layoffs if we have to.” Also worth noting that he nor the industry have ever faced something as serious as this pandemic.
jetBlue is “also continuing with our commitment of offering flexibility so if your plans change and you need to cancel your flight, you can change that and we rebook that at no cost within a 2-year period,” Hayes said.