The last leg of the U.S. airline recovery is going to be the hardest

U.S. passengers are ready for 2022, but airlines aren’t. Part two in our year-ahead forecast.

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Release Date
November 29, 2021
The last leg of the U.S. airline recovery is going to be the hardest
  • TAC Analysis details its 2022 forecast in two parts, continuing with the obstacles and opportunities facing airlines heading into the new year.
  • The United States traffic doubled in 2021, rebounding as passengers continue to return to the skies, but the remaining recovery will be paced by the airlines’ ability to accept it.
  • Touching 89% of 2019 levels on Thanksgiving weekend, we expect the recovery to stall, ending 2022 still below 100%.

Commercial air travel in the United States is about to pass a major milestone. Twenty months after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., air travel has nearly recovered to match the second-worst downturn in history, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Clawing its way back to 89% of pre-crisis numbers, the world’s largest market for air travel will soon cross the 90% mark and be presented with the now-luxury that it actually has been this bad before. The milestone acknowledges the impressive accomplishment of rebuilding and regrowing an aviation marketplace from 3% of 2019 levels back to 90%, a 3,000% increase in under two years.

Related: If 2021 was about flying again, 2022 is about higher fares & packed flights

Yet, this accomplishment remains tempered by the realization that the U.S. now starts a recovery equal to the most challenging it has experienced before. Next year’s recovery is not going to look like the last two years.

Continuing our examination of 2021 and the impressive doubling in air traffic over the year, in this second part of our forecast we look forward to 2022, away from the explosive rebound and into the capacity-constrained reality facing the airlines. Even as the first 89% of traffic to return took 20 months, the last 11% could also take 20 months. For 2022, this could mean the year exists at nearly the same traffic with which it entered, signaling a shift to the ever-difficult last mile of the recovery.

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