Is travel rebounding? The numbers say no, not really.

In April, the Middle Seat tallied up the devastation in the travel industry from the Covid-19 pandemic, looking at key numbers that illustrated the impact. More than six months later, it’s time for another look at the numbers.

There have been small improvements, which some analysts have touted as signs of recovery. But as the numbers show, any recovery has been in many ways inconsequential so far.

If you want a good measuring stick for the impact of the pandemic on airlines, compare what’s happening now to the industry collapse following the 2001 terrorist attacks. The six biggest U.S. airlines have experienced losses nearly twice as big as inflation-adjusted losses those same airlines, including their merger partners, had after 9/11.

Following both events, government assistance propped up the airlines, which reduced losses. Even with that, the 11 airlines that now make up the six biggest had losses totaling $8.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2001 and the first quarter of 2002. Adjusted for inflation that totals about $12.4 billion. In the second and third quarters this year, those six airlines had combined losses of $22.5 billion. (The number is actually 1.8 times as big, but we rounded it.)



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