Just how bad was 2020 for the airline industry? The six biggest US airlines lost $34 billion, and Southwest suffered its first full-year loss since Richard Nixon was president and gasoline sold for 36 cents a gallon. It was a disaster for airlines, worse than 9/11 or the global financial crisis—some small carriers didn't survive it—and the new year is off to a grim start. On Thursday, Southwest, American, and JetBlue reported that they lost a combined $3.5 billion in the final three months of the year, the AP reports. All issued dismal revenue outlooks for the current quarter that echoed similar pessimism from Delta, United and Alaska, which posted financial results earlier. The airlines are looking past spring and hoping that as more people are vaccinated against COVID-19, carriers can salvage something from the peak summer vacation season.
But even that bit of optimism is threatened. The number of new reported cases of coronavirus in the US have eased in the past few weeks, but they remain high. And now a halting rollout of vaccines threatens to further delay recovery in the travel industry. President Biden reinstated COVID-19 travel restrictions this week on most non-US travelers from Brazil, the UK and South Africa. There is also a new requirement that non-citizens provide proof of a negative test for COVID-19 before boarding a flight to the US. "Travel restrictions on international have resulted in a reduction in demand,” American said. American Airlines Group reported a loss of $2.2 billion in the fourth quarter and $8.9 billion for all of 2020 after earning nearly $1.7 billion the year before. Southwest posted a $908 million loss for the fourth quarter, compared with a profit of $514 million a year earlier, and said bookings have stalled. JetBlue reported a loss of $381 million, after reporting a profit in the fourth quarter of 2019. (Health experts' warnings didn't do much to stop holiday travel.)