Air travel declined in August amid delta variant fears

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Flight bookings shrank last month amid a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.

Through the first three weeks of August, online customers spent $2.9 billion on U.S. flights, down 33 percent from the same period in 2019, according to an analysis from Adobe Digital Insights.

It’s the second straight month of declining flight bookings. Travelers spent around $5.3 billion in July, a 13 percent drop from June, when air travel neared pre-pandemic levels.  

“Domestic flight bookings in August thus far show that U.S. consumers are taking the delta variant seriously and once again shifting their travel plans,” said Vivek Pandya, lead analyst at Adobe Digital Insights.

Figures from the Transportation Security Administration tell a similar story. The agency screened fewer than 1.5 million travelers on Aug. 24, the lowest single-day total in months. 

The data presents a grim reality for the hard-hit airline industry, which believed it was on the road to recovery in June as flights ticked up. 

COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations saw a sharp increase over the last two weeks, and the pandemic hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Biden, warned Sunday that low vaccination rates could lead to 100,000 new COVID-19-related deaths by December.

Last week, Delta Air Lines required unvaccinated employees to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing and pay a $200 monthly surcharge for health care. Earlier this month, United Airlines implemented a vaccine mandate for all of its U.S. employees.

Continued cancellations and delays may have also impacted U.S. air travel. Spirit Airlines canceled more than 2,800 flights in early August amid system outages, poor weather and staffing shortages. Airlines have struggled to find enough workers to meet demand. 

Congress provided $54 billion in government aid to airlines to help them keep employees on the payroll. That assistance runs out on Sept. 30.

Tags air travel Airline industry Airlines Anthony Fauci cancellations COVID-19 Delta variant federal aid flights Joe Biden staffing shortages

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