Virus pandemic reshaping air travel as carriers struggle

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this May 28, 2020, file photo, a passenger wears personal protective equipment on a Delta Airlines flight after landing at MinneapolisSaint Paul International Airport, in Minneapolis. Airlines are trying to convince a frightened public that measures like mandatory face masks and hospital-grade air filters make sitting in a plane safer than many other indoor settings during the coronavirus pandemic, but it isnt working. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

In a bid to survive, airlines are desperately trying to convince a wary public that measures like mandatory face masks and hospital-grade air filters make sitting in a plane safer than many other indoor settings during the coronavirus pandemic.

It isn’t working.

Surveys indicate that instead of growing comfortable with air travel, more people are becoming skeptical about it. In the United States, airline bookings have stalled in the past month after slowly rising — a reaction to a new surge of reported virus infections.

Globally, air travel is down more than 85% from a year ago, according to industry figures.

The implications for the airline industry are grave. Several leading carriers already have filed for bankruptcy protection, and if the hoped-for recovery is delayed much longer, the list will grow.

The four largest U.S. airlines lost a combined $10 billion from April through June. Their CEOs say they will survive, but they have lowered their expectations for a rebound.

“We were all hoping that by the fall the virus might run its course,” said Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly. “Obviously, that has proven to be dead wrong.”

When Consumer Reports surveyed more than 1,000 people in June about their comfort with various activities during the pandemic, 70% said flying was very or somewhat unsafe. They rated going to a hospital emergency room or standing in line to vote as safer.