FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Oakland, California
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said on Sunday that he believes it’s safe to fly and travel again, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and related lockdowns.
Speaking on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Kelly told interviewer Margaret Brennan measures taken by the airline to clean planes and protect passengers made it safe for passengers to return.
“We’re doing everything possible to encourage people to come back and fly,” he said. “We’re cleaning airplanes. We’re requiring masks of our employees and our customers. We’re using very deep cleanings every night.”
Kelly also cited social distancing in airports and on planes, saying that the airline would not book full planes, so that people could spread out more.
“I don’t think the risk on an airplane is any greater risk than anywhere else,” Kelly said. “It’s as safe as an environment as you’re going to find.”
Airlines globally and within the US have upped their cleaning protocols, using disinfectants on planes and promoting the fact that most planes are equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which can capture the virus from recirculating cabin air.
However, concerns remain, with simulations showing that the virus can still spread in confined plane cabins before being caught by the HEPA filters, and reports of several full flights in recent days highlighting the challenges of social distancing on planes. Most flights in recent weeks, however, have been just 5–15% full.
Most US airlines — including Southwest — have announced they will require passengers to wear masks on board, which can help prevent anyone with the virus, including those who are not experiencing symptoms, from spreading it to others.
Each of the major US airlines reported huge losses for the first quarter with revenue essentially frozen, as potential passengers wait to see when it will be safe to fly, and when lockdown orders will be lifted, before purchasing tickets.
As passengers return, airlines will face a challenge as they work to operate profitable flights, while following guidance to combat the virus. At the same time, they’ll need to convince potential passengers that it’s safe to fly.
Passenger numbers have slowly been increasing over the past 10 days, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration. Kelly suggested that airlines could be past the worst of the crisis.
“I think we’ve seen the bottom here in April,” he said. “Each week after the first week of April has gotten successively better. I think May will be better than April was, and I don’t think June will be a good month, but hopefully it will be a bit better than May.”
“And then we’re looking forward to July and August, and we’ll just have to see,” he added. “There are bookings in place. But those could easily be canceled.”
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