America is grounded on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photos of thousands of airliners crammed onto unused runways and any available tarmac space take place in our national lockdown’s gallery of eerie images. Domestic passenger traffic numbers are down about 95 percent from a year earlier. Airlines have canceled most flights as they lose tens of millions of dollars a day, and there is little indication that demand for air travel will pick up anytime soon. The federal government did step in to provide the industry with $25 billion in emergency grants and loans to preserve the nation’s circulatory system and prevent a total collapse—aid conditioned upon the airlines continuing to serve all their domestic markets and avoiding any layoffs until September.
Against this backdrop, Future Tense editorial director AndrésMartinez invited three aviation experts to talk on Slack about when, and how, Americans might take flight again. Seth Kaplan is the transportation analyst for NPR’s Here & Now, the author of Glory Lost and Found: How Delta Climbed From Despair to Dominance in the Post-9/11 Era , and co-host of the Airlines Confidential podcast.* Benét Wilson is the credit card editor for the Points Guy. She’s a veteran aviation journalist who has written for such publications as USA Today and Aviation Daily and is known among her peers as the aviation queen. Christopher Schaberg is the Dorothy Harrell Brown distinguished professor of English at Loyola University–New Orleans and the author of The End of Airports.
On May 21 at 4 p.m. Eastern, Future Tense will host an online event asking, “Will We Ever Fly Again?” RSVP now.
Andrés Martinez:Seth, let me start with you on an, um, easy question: When do you think we will get back to 2019 levels (or those of January, for that matter, when we saw a 5 percent increase in passenger traffic of air travel)?