More and more airline CEOs are going public with their sentiments, and more and more are expressing the same message.
Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci is the latest, telling NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt that leisure bookings are “back to pre-pandemic levels.”
“With the pace of vaccinations increasing, we saw a significant step change in March,” Minicucci said. “We actually, for the first time, achieved positive cash flow in March after 12 months of burning cash. And, so, things are looking more optimistic.”
That doesn’t mean the industry is out of the woods just yet.
The coronavirus pandemic did a number on aviation in the last 15 months. Business travel and international travel are down significantly, and that has helped keep current overall airline capacity at about 65-70 percent of its total from 2019.
“We believe that on the domestic leisure side we’re pretty much 100 percent,” Minicucci said, “and for to get us back to 2019 levels, we’re forecasting to be back there by the summer of 2022.”
One thing that would help speed the return? No more masks.
Minicucci said it would be easier for the airline if the government eventually dropped the mask requirement on airplanes.
“I think as vaccinations increase, I think we’ve proven scientifically that the environment onboard the aircraft is safe with HEPA filters and the way the air circulates on the airplane,” he said. “I’m hoping that the government does relax that policy. But for now, it is a federally mandated requirement and we’ll comply with that.”