National airline quality expert comments on potential impact of COVID-19 on air travel

Dean Headley, co-author of the national Airline Quality Rating from Wichita State University, says public concerns over COVID-19 will mostly negatively affect air travel internationally, but will certainly have some impact on domestic air travel as the virus spreads. 

“At this point, the biggest impact is on international travel,” said Headley. “Truth be told, there’s a silver lining for those travelers who continue to fly domestically. If the coronavirus results in a reduction in passengers flying commercially, airline performance will likely be better. History shows that fewer travelers helps the system perform better.  Of course, the downside for the airlines is they’ll lose money because fewer people are traveling.” 

Initially, Headley says the large US airports will likely be affected more than smaller regional airports because they handle most of the international traffic. The hub and spoke system of air travel also presents challenges to all airports in trying to contain the virus.

Leisure travelers are in the process of making their summer plans now, so depending on the spread of the virus domestically, there could be a reduction in leisure travel for the summer, according to Headley. “There’s a lot of complex issues, especially concerning human nature and what people are willing to do despite warnings in terms of air travel and the community spread of the virus,” said Headley.

Looking back, the events of 9/11 come to mind regarding when air travel was considered a risky choice.  At this point, Headley says the airline industry shouldn’t suffer as much from COVID-19 as it did following 9/11.

“It took a couple of years for domestic air travel to recover from 9/11,” said Headley. “The coronavirus is scary, but I don’t think it scares the public like 9/11 did. A lot will depend though on what shape the virus takes over the next few months. Airlines and consumers alike should learn from this and be better prepared for next year and the year after that. Unless the coronavirus becomes an epidemic in this country, the impact isn’t going to be as serious as post 9/11.”

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Contact: Dean Headley, 316-648-8570 or dean.headley@wichita.edu.

 

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