This coronavirus crisis is so much more severe than past downturns in the industry that there’s a good chance there could be a new round of mergers and airline failures that the industry has gone through in the past.
“In the near term, we’re going to see a shakeout,” said Joe Schwieterman, a transportation expert and professor at DePaul University in Chicago. “The weaker players may not survive this. Most industry leaders are expecting a long, painful recovery.”
Even if all the current US airlines manage to survive, airlines big and small will pull back from markets and routes that have become unprofitable in the new environment. Even on routes they maintain, they’ll reduce the frequency of flights to fill up a greater percentage of seats.
That will lead to higher fares than before the crisis. “There’s going to be fewer airplanes. That means less flying,” said industry consultant Mike Boyd. “So there’s going to be less choice, and you’ll be paying more. There’s no way around that.”