The Effects of COVID-19

The novel Covid-19 pandemic has severely hurt the airline industry due to various travel restrictions imposed by the government in order to contain the spread of the virus. People have significantly decreased air travel for business and leisure purposes. 

THE EFFECT OF COVID-19 ON AIR TRAFFIC Air travel patterns have changed drastically over the past few months.The number of passengers grew approximately 5% in January and February of 2020, before the pandemic became widespread. Shelter-in-place orders and governmental travel restrictions began in March 2020, causing the number of passengers traveling on U.S. airlines to plummet. Business travel also reduced substantially as firms began to adopt work-from-home schedules to honor social distancing. In the week of May 12th – 19th alone, air travel fell by 91%. This decline in air travel stems from widespread health and sanitation concerns, as people want to avoid coming in close contact with other passengers and crew members. Furthermore, traveling through different airports, cities, and countries puts passengers at greater risk of exposure. Similarly, aircrafts usually have recycled air, which can fasten the spread of the virus. [1]

Airlines for America investigated and found that the number of passengers on operating domestic and international flights reduced as well. In January and February of 2020 on average, domestic flights had 85-100 passengers and international flights had 120-150 passengers. Towards the end of March, domestic and international flights were carrying 10 and 20 passengers, on average, respectively. This number has recovered slightly since April as some restrictions have eased. In the week of May 17th-24th, international and domestic flights had around 47 passengers on average. [1]

U.S. airlines have struggled to keep up with this sudden and drastic fall in demand for air travel, as shown in the visualization above. As such, the reduction in air traffic has been more than the decrease in air travel capacity. As seen in the visualization above by Airlines for America, air traffic had fallen by 91.8% but capacity had reduced by 82.1% by May 24th. By mid-April, the plunge for traffic and capacity both, were even deeper. [1] This will likely cause some airlines to file for bankruptcy, as the airline industry operates on very low profit margins.

THE EFFECT OF COVID-19 ON AIR FREIGHT As people have reduced traveling, they began ordering more products, which has caused an increase in the demand for freight. In particular, demand for personal protective equipment has risen in the past few months. However, more than half of all air freight travels in the cargo components of passenger planes. This is a problem because many passenger planes have been grounded due to reduced demand. Therefore, while the demand for air freight has increased, the reduction in flying passenger planes has caused the supply to reduce. This has caused the prices of air freight and international deliveries to increase. The number of passenger and air freight planes flying from Europe to North America and Asian Pacific to North America have decreased 52% and 17% from 2019 to 2020 respectively. [2] As a response, the U.S. government has taken measures such as chartering 50 wide-body cargo planes to transport PPE.

COVID-19 TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS AND STRANDED CITIZENS Many found themselves stuck in foreign lands, unable to return home due to the travel restrictions. Some Americans who traveled abroad for leisure or business purposes struggled to return amidst the pandemic, and were struggling financially and emotionally. While repatriations flight were scheduled eventually, they faced tremendous uncertainty before their return to the country.

“We were trying to buy food yesterday, and people did not want to sell us anything because we were foreigners. They simply said: “Go away. We are closed for the night. We’re closed for the day.” It’s been a little difficult. We came across discrimination, even. Just two days ago we were walking in the street, looking for food, and people started yelling “corona” at me and my friend.”

Arturo Salgado, stranded in India [3]

“I’ve already been rebooked eight to 10 times since last Tuesday. If I didn’t have a wife and kids to get back home to, I think I would’ve just stayed in Austria and just given up.”

Brian Johnson, stranded in Austria [3]

“We’re gonna be running out of funds soon. They’re not providing any meals. We don’t have any choice but to pay the hotel restaurant for all of our food. Grocery shopping is, in theory, available. But with the stories that I’ve heard about foreigners, you know, being threatened with violence, we don’t feel as though we can leave just to get basic supplies.”

Elizabeth Lord, stranded in India [3]

RECOVERY OF THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY The coronavirus pandemic is likely to transform the airline industry forever, by forcing airlines to put safety and sanitation at the frontlines. In order to regain customers and secure their trust, airlines will have to demonstrate their commitment to health and hygiene. While air travel is likely to return to pre-pandemic levels with time, it is difficult to predict if and how fast the industry will recover. 

“Airline success in the post-COVID-19 era will hinge on a combination of building consumer confidence and operational flexibility with changing schedules and routes. Airlines have a tremendous reputation for safety. That will be even more critical as passengers look to airlines for detailed and specific information about what’s being done to keep them safe.”

Michael Taylor, Travel Intelligence Lead at J.D. Power [4]

[1] Impact of COVID-19: Data Updates. 6 June 2020,

[2] “A Perfect Storm: How the Impact of COVID-19 Has Driven Airfreight to Historic Levels.” Flexport, 17 Apr. 2020,

[3] Narishkin, Abby, and Steve Cameron. 4 Americans Stuck Abroad Share Stories of Flight Cancellations and Poor Government Response. 7 Apr. 2020,

[4] “Importance of Trust, Transparency to Airline Satisfaction Grows as Industry Confronts Pandemic Fears, J.D. Power Finds.” Business Wire, 27 May 2020,