Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Opinion
Brooke Sutherland

Full Planes to Disney World Are Only Step One

The snapback in domestic air travel shows the power of the U.S. recovery, but that has its limits as global trends move more slowly.

U.S. airlines are enjoying a domestic boost, but a full revival will take a lot more than that.  

U.S. airlines are enjoying a domestic boost, but a full revival will take a lot more than that.  

Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images North America

America's robust comeback from the coronavirus pandemic stands out, but that alone isn't enough to buoy the fortunes of some of its biggest companies. The unevenness of the global recovery is being felt back home, and in the aerospace sector that means it's better at this stage to be in the business of flying planes than making them.

The U.S. has administered more coronavirus vaccines than any other country and more than half of adults have now received at least their first dose. In contrast to other parts of the world where a bevy of travel restrictions remain in place, there are no hard borders between U.S. states and there are no more interstate quarantine mandates — to the extent those were ever successfully enforced. That’s unleashed a wave of pent-up travel demand, and U.S. airlines are taking full advantage by aggressively adding flights for domestic leisure hot spots and certain Central and Latin American markets that have proved popular (and more easily accessible) than overseas trips. American Airlines Group Inc.’s planes have been 80% full on average in recent weeks and Southwest Airlines Co. is targeting similar passenger traffic for April and May. Meanwhile, cash flow has turned positive for Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. by their chosen definitions, and Delta even thinks it can start making money again by the third quarter.