Flight bookings plummet amid delta variant fears

Flight bookings rapidly declined in August and early September amid a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly transmissible delta variant.

Online customers spent $4 billion on flights within the U.S. in August, down 24 percent from July and 35 percent below pre-pandemic levels, according to an analysis from Adobe Digital Insights. 

Through the first 10 days of September, flight bookings remained weak, down 39 percent from the same period in 2019.  

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“Historically, July and August have similar consumer spending levels when it comes to domestic flight bookings,” says Vivek Pandya, lead analyst at Adobe Digital Insights. “The fact that August came in over $1.2 billion under July is striking when you consider the historical benchmark, and it shows how much the delta variant has shaped what consumers feel about air travel.”

The analysis found that holiday reservations have also taken a hit, with Thanksgiving flight bookings down 18 percent from the same period in 2019. 

Airlines have indicated that the delta variant’s continued spread has caused travelers to cancel their flights. The recent decline in air travel has forced carriers to lower their expectations for the rest of the year after strong summer travel sparked optimism of a robust comeback. 

Figures from the Transportation Security Administration confirms that air travel hasn’t picked back up in recent weeks. The agency screened roughly 1.9 million travelers on Friday, down from around 2.6 million people on the same day in 2019.