While we all know that we should stay at home and be prepared to shelter in place for the immediate foreseeable future, we also know that the world will reopen for business (and pleasure) as usual someday. Of course, we all have questions about when exactly that might be, and what exactly “usual” will look like when that day comes. The ways we do business, travel, and practice leisure will all change, but for better or worse? For the answer to that question, in most cases we’ll just have to wait and see — when it comes to air travel, though, industry trends since the turn of the century already speak volumes. We partnered up with our friends at Dollar Flight Club to explore the current state of travel and take a look beyond the horizon.
Already long gone are the days when the first news about the virus was driving flight prices down and people mused online about going for job interviews in Greece. A trip to the grocery store now feels like an odyssey, so never mind the idea of getting on a plane. This is a unique situation, but while the economic challenges that certain industries face might be unprecedented in scale, they are not entirely foreign to the task of running a business. Musician Serj Tankian, in a conversation with Dark Tourist host David Farrier, asked the question “what would be an example of “precedented” times, anyway?”, to illustrate the point that being prepared for anything and everything might not be possible, but you can always account for one thing — uncertainty.
And whether or not you agree that airline companies deserve potential government bailouts, there is evidence to suggest two things: one, that they will take hits comparable to those experienced in the past, and two, that they will bounce back as demand remains relatively constant in the long-term. After all, the World Bank estimates that air traffic grows by about 300 million passengers every year. Airlines will be hoping that the steady growth in recent years, as well as the fact that 73.6% percent of the 20,000 travelers surveyed by DFC said that COVID only makes them want to travel to same amount or more, will serve to keep them afloat amidst record-breaking losses and drop-off in demand (for reference, airlines lost $74 billion between 2001 and 2010 — they will lose more than $100 billion in 2020 alone).
To try and predict the future of the air travel market, DFC’s reports looked at the numbers of the fallout from two major disruptive events to the industry in the past 20 years, namely the terror attacks of 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2008. But to put any losses and drops in demand in context, it’s also worth noting that airlines generate almost twice as much revenue as they did in 2004. In 2018, combined air travel revenue totaled almost $240 billion. In sum, while any losses incurred during the “Great Lockdown” might cause the industry giants to stagger, all evidence points to them taking the same evasive maneuvers to navigate this crisis as they have in the past.
Specifically, that will mean reducing the volume of flights on most domestic routes and trying to maximize load factor, the number of passengers on any given flight. The number of domestic passenger flights went down by 14% between 2007 and 2012 as a result of the financial crisis, and those covering distances of less than 250 miles went down by 24%. Of course, less supply without much long-term dropoff in demand will mean that prices rise, but more on that in a moment: to make running less flights more financially viable, DFC’s experts also predict that another major merger may occur between airline companies, or that code sharing will become increasingly popular in the very least. Large carriers folded or merged after both 9/11 and the financial crisis, with names like Continental, Northwest, and U.S. Airways all now of the past. As four major carriers now dominate the market share, smaller, budget carriers like Spirit and Frontier could also disappear or be swallowed up by the bigger companies.
What does this mean for the passenger? If price is your most immediate concern, the forecast is favorable through the end of 2021: airfares will remain significantly lower, about 35% cheaper on average. But once demand fully recovers and begins to trend back upwards, expect the airlines to adjust to the new climate and increase fares above pre-lockdown levels, soaring as much as 27% higher than before.
What can you do about that? More than ever before, look for destinations off the beaten path. It’s likely going to be more costly than ever to fly to places like Hawaii, Paris, London, New York, and Bali, so break out those budget guides and try to think outside the box. Maybe our lives after lockdown will involve more road tripping, house sitting, and couchsurfing than before. Some people will tell you that these were always the best ways to see the world, anyway. Perhaps air travel will be reserved for more urgent trips, and staycations make a comeback, too.
But if you’re still determined to score your dream getaway once this storm passes, put aside your worries about overspending by securing a Dollar Flight Club membership — and get 99% off when you sign up right now using code “PassionDFC99“.