United Airlines CEO: Travel Unlikely to Recover Until Broad Distribution of a Vaccine

A Boeing 737 Max in United livery

By Anna Breuer on 13 September 2020
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No other industry is feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as much as travel and hospitality and airlines are on the front lines when it comes to losses in revenue, furloughs and layoffs, and general panic.

Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, can tell you just how bad it is.

The pandemic has ravaged the airline industry, bringing business travel to a halt, preventing people from traveling internationally, and curbing leisure trips.

“Business travel is almost nonexistent,” he said in an interview on the CBS news program “Face the Nation,” adding “all parts of the travel industry from aviation to hospitality to meetings and conventions are “at Depression[-era] levels.”

The irony is perhaps that flying is safe but people don’t feel safe traveling yet.

“In a business like ours, demand is not going to come back until people feel safe being around other people, and that’s going to take a vaccine,” he said, adding that “that’s just the reality. Some businesses can recover earlier, but in aviation and all the industries that we support, it is going to take longer.”

Airlines are doing everything possible to make flying appear safer and germ-free and United is trying to contain the spread of the virus with a combination of technology and old-fashioned tools such as Clorox.

“We created a partnership with Clorox and the Cleveland Clinic [at United] called CleanPlus that’s helped us innovate and find ways to keep people safe, whether it’s electrostatic spraying every airplane,” Kirby said, adding that the airline was one of the first companies to require face masks.

What people don’t understand concerning the safety of travel is airflow on airplanes and how being on a plane is safer in this respect than being in a restaurant or shop or even a doctor’s office.

“The aircraft are designed to have the air come out of the ceiling to the floorboards and refilter through HEPA-grade filters every two to three minutes,” Kirby explained.  There’s literally no place that you can ever be that’s anywhere close to [how safe it is on] an airplane.”

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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