Flight bookings neared pre-pandemic levels in June as airlines struggled to accommodate an influx of returning passengers.
Online customers spent $6 billion on flights within the U.S. last month, a 17 percent increase from May and just 5 percent lower than June 2019, according to an analysis from Adobe Digital Insights.
“The 17 percent growth we saw in June 2021 is notable, especially considering that flight prices have largely returned to pre-pandemic norms,” said Vivek Pandya, lead analyst at Adobe Digital Insights. “Pent-up demand is materializing, with consumers eager to get back into an activity that was not possible during the pandemic.”
Airlines were understaffed for the sudden rebound in air travel, forcing them to cancel hundreds of flights in June and July and delay thousands more. Industry experts blamed the disruptions on a shortage of pilots and airport employees.
American Airlines announced Wednesday that it would hire 450 more pilots than planned over the next two years. Last week, the company recalled all of its flight attendants who had taken voluntary leaves of absence during the pandemic.
Some delays stemmed from thousands of unruly passengers, most of whom refused to comply with the federal mask mandate that remains in place for flights.
The surge in summer passengers has also given airlines a financial boost. Delta last week reported its first profits since the start of the pandemic, though the company would have taken a huge loss if not for government assistance.
Airlines are still reeling from the absence of business and international travel, however; despite lobbying from travel and airline industry groups, President BidenJoe BidenFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push Protesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Alabama eyes using pandemic relief funds on prison system MORE has not lifted restrictions on flights from foreign countries into the U.S.
Industry experts have also expressed concern that COVID-19 variants could reduce demand for flights. The more deadly delta variant currently accounts for 83 percent of COVID-19 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and vaccination rates remain flat.