US airlines say COVID-19 variants aren't hurting bookings
Rising concern about the fast-spreading delta variant of COVID-19 is creating turbulence for the stocks of big travel companies, but airline executives say they don’t see any slowdown in ticket sales, maybe because a high percentage of their best customers are fully vaccinated.
“We haven't seen any impact at all on bookings, which continue to just get stronger and stronger every week,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said Wednesday.
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said the same thing last week, although he added that variants were continuing to hobble international travel by delaying the opening of borders.
More than 2 million people a day, mostly summer vacationers, are packing U.S. airports. That is a turnaround from the lockdown summer of 2020.
The travel recovery took hold earlier this year as vaccinations rose and infection cases fell. Now variants are fueling a tripling in new reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. over the past two weeks — although just a fraction of the January peak — and driving outbreaks in other countries.
Earlier in the pandemic, airlines saw that bad headlines about the virus would prompt large numbers of people to cancel trips. For much of 2020, cancellations outpaced ticket sales. Americans seem less skittish about the variants now that many of them are vaccinated, airline executives say.
United said its cancellation rate has not changed in the last few weeks, although it remains higher than before the pandemic. It could be due to the millions of Americans — particularly those who travel — who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
About 57% of Americans who are old enough for the shots are fully vaccinated, according to government figures. United said that 84% of the members of its frequent-flyer program are vaccinated.