On the subject of air journey in 2021, there’s some cautious optimism
Depending on vaccination efforts, the aviation industry could improve a bit this year.
MINNEAPOLIS – Temperatures in the Twin Cities are back to their 20s on New Year’s Day, so you might be dreaming of a tropical vacation right now. Travel continues to be severely discouraged at the start of 2021. Depending on the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, the outlook may improve by the end of the year.
To better understand the travel industry in 2021, we spoke to Kyle Potter, editor-in-chief of Thrifty Traveler, Minnesota on Friday. Here is a transcript of our conversation (with a few minor changes):
KARE 11: Big picture, what do you see for the future of travel in 2021?
Kyle Potter: It’s a moving picture right now. I think most critically, for the first time since maybe last March there is actually hope that we can travel next year. Whether that’s the next month, probably not, or maybe a few months, but when you look well into 2021, the second and third quarters of the year, there is confidence that people will actually be able to to take the trips they take book. Airlines and tour operators say that for the first time in many, many months, people are booking these trips 10 or 11 months later.
KARE 11: What advice would you give someone who is optimistic about the second half of 2021, summer or fall, if they might make plans?
KYLE: While things are still uncertain, it is an amazing time to book trips for a number of reasons. Airfares are lower than ever. That’s what Thrifty Traveler does, we find flight deals and it’s been bananas for a few weeks. In addition, airlines offer free exchange and cancellation policies. Almost every major US airline, including some of the smaller ones and even some of the big international ones, says, “As long as you book with us by the end of January or March 2021, we’ll allow you to change the ticket for free, or cancel it and receive A voucher for your ticket. ‘There’s just this unprecedented level of flexibility. You don’t have to gamble a huge gamble if you book a trip for later in 2021.
KARE 11: What is the current financial outlook for the aviation industry?
KYLE: It’s still a bit shaky. I think now there is this kind of hope that travel will resume or resume by the end of the year. You’re in a better place than you were a few months ago. Even so, it’s hard to know exactly how things will improve. International travel is unlikely to return to pre-COVID levels for many, many years. Domestic travel will return faster, but that will still be quite uneven and choppy for the next several months. And business travel, I don’t think anyone expects to get back to pre-COVID levels for long. Airlines really rely on business travelers booking seats in advance and paying a ton or booking at the last minute because they have to pay a lot more and because plans are constantly changing. That’s why the airlines built their business. Until that comes back in a meaningful way, things get a little shaky for airlines.
KARE 11: Overall, where are the airlines in terms of the number of trips that have dropped over the pandemic?
KYLE: Even during this hectic (pandemic) Christmas travel season, travel numbers in the USA still fell by around 50 percent compared to the previous year. That will fall again. This was a very busy travel time with people wanting to visit family on short trips. We’ll be far from the norm. MSP has announced that they don’t expect the number of passengers, the number of passengers they see, to return to 2019 levels by at least 2024. That might even be a little optimistic. I think it really depends. It is currently very difficult to determine what the recovery from travel is like. We just don’t know how vaccine distribution will go, how countries around the world will react with travel restrictions, how companies will react to sending business travelers back to work. There is a lot going on right now and you will have to ask me about this prospect again in three or four months.
KARE 11: It sounds like there are reasons to be optimistic – but there are still many questions.
KYLE: Absolutely. I think the biggest thing is that there is hope and confidence that people can travel again. This is new We haven’t felt it for a long time. Anyway, what really speaks for me is that we had a big promo to say a good exemption by 2020, and it was by far the most successful promo our company has ever had. If you had told me in July that we had a promo and it was going so well, I would not have believed you. It was such a different picture. Just a few months ago there was no trust in traveling.
The other thing to keep in mind when people start returning to travel is that it will be different for years. I think mask mandates will likely last with airlines for a while. I would expect this to be probably the last place these mandates will go away. There has never been a federal regulation on it, but all airlines really raped and banned people. Until we return to those 2019 travel levels, the number of flights in and out of the country won’t be the same as a year ago. There will be fewer frequencies between cities where you could potentially choose between eight or nine flights on Delta to fly from MSP to Chicago. It will be closer to four or five during the day for a long time before the journey returns to what we expected.
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