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Airline Companies Struggle to Persuade Public to Fly
The U.S. airline industry continues to face major financial losses after a sharp drop in air travel caused by the coronavirus crisis.
The airlines are attempting to persuade Americans that it is safe to fly even as COVID-19 infections have been rising in some areas. The companies say measures such as requiring face masks and operating hospital-quality air cleaners make sitting in an airplane safer than many other indoor settings.
Public opinion studies, however, have suggested that many people still do not feel good about getting on a plane. In a June study by Consumer Reports of 1,000 people, 70 percent said they believed flying was either very or somewhat unsafe. Those questioned said they thought going to a hospital emergency room or standing in line to vote was safer than getting on a plane. In another study requested by an airline trade group, the biggest concern of travelers was the possibility of sitting next to an infected person.
John Kontak is a schoolteacher from Phoenix, Arizona. He told The Associated Press he had this fear as soon as he stepped onto a crowded American Airlines flight this summer to Ohio.
"I don't know anything about this person who is sitting a foot away from me," Kontak said. "They took the bottom line or the dollar over the safety of passengers. Next time, I'd rather drive back to Ohio than fly — it's safer because I can control it."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says sitting within 2 meters of other passengers, often for hours, may increase the risk of getting COVID-19. But the CDC also notes that most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates on planes.
Public fears about airplane infections have resulted in major financial difficulties for the airlines. Several leading carriers have already sought bankruptcy protection and others could follow if the current economic climate continues.
The four largest U.S. airlines lost a combined $10 billion from April through June. While company leaders say they think they will survive, they have lowered their expectations for a quick recovery.
"We were all hoping that by the fall the virus might run its course," said Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly. "Obviously, that has proven to be dead wrong."
Effect on international carriers
Internationally, air travel is down more than 85 percent from a year ago, industry data shows.
The International Air Transport Association has predicted air carriers will lose $84 billion this year, making it the worst year in the industry's history. The group says traffic will likely not fully recover until 2024.
Asia, where coronavirus outbreaks were brought under control earlier, is doing better than the U.S. and Europe. Air travel within China has recovered to about two-thirds its level from a year ago. In the U.S., air traffic is less than one-third of 2019 levels.
Air traffic at Europe's more than 500 airports has dropped sharply, down 94 percent in June compared with the same month last year. There were about 4 million passengers, compared with 217 million a year earlier.
Travel began rising when many European countries reopened borders in early July. But virus cases are now rising in several nations, leading to the restart of restrictions. This week, Britain placed a 14-day quarantine requirement on travelers — even Britons returning home — from France and the Netherlands. Travel from outside Europe, including the United States, is still restricted.
I'm Bryan Lynn.

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