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This week may be “Armageddon” for the airline industry

Erika Beras Sep 28, 2020
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Flight attendants and other aviation workers participate in a march near the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 9, calling for extended airline support. Alex Wong/Getty Images
COVID-19

This week may be “Armageddon” for the airline industry

Erika Beras Sep 28, 2020
Heard on:
Flight attendants and other aviation workers participate in a march near the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 9, calling for extended airline support. Alex Wong/Getty Images
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It’s shaping up to be a bad week for employees of commercial airlines. In exchange for a federal bailout earlier in the pandemic, carriers had agreed not to cut the ranks of pilots, flight attendants, ground crews and management until Oct. 1. Airlines are expected to begin announcing more than 35,000 job cuts Thursday.

When I asked Janet Bednarek, a professor at the University of Dayton who studies urban and aviation history, what the past few months have been like for the airlines, she didn’t even pause: “Armageddon.”

“This is the worst crisis in the history of American aviation,” she said.

A crisis for the airlines, for the airports, for the soon-to-be-unemployed. And for the hub cities — Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth.

“For every direct airline employment loss, there’s about seven or eight, support and derived job losses elsewhere in the community,” said Robert Mann, an aviation analyst. 

These losses will ripple across the U.S., even to cities that aren’t hubs, said Kevin Healy, the president and CEO of consulting firm Campbell-Hill Aviation Group.

“A significant percentage of those employees don’t necessarily live where they’re based,” Healy said.

The hubs will still have planes flying in and out, moving cargo such as medical supplies. And because they had such good airline service before, those cities have other industries to cushion the loss. More affected by these job cuts, said Brett Snyder of the blog Cranky Flier, will be smaller places like Williamsport, Pennsylvania, which will lose a regular American Airlines flight, for example.

“It hurts some of the local businesses,” Snyder said. “It’s something that if it holds up in the long run that they don’t have service, then it could be a risk to the economies.”

And those cities will have a harder time rebounding when air travel returns to its pre-pandemic levels. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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