As ground zero of the pandemic, China was the first country to see aviation grind to a halt this year. In January, American and Chinese carriers operated about 325 weekly flights between the two countries, according to the Transportation Department. By mid-Feburary, only 20 remained, all of them run by Chinese airlines.
In March, that slowdown spread worldwide, bringing air travel to a screeching halt and devastating the global aviation industry. By April, demand for flights worldwide had fallen by more than 94 percent, compared with a year ago, according to the International Air Transport Association.
But there have been signs in recent weeks that demand is recovering. The number of daily flights rose from late April to late May, countries are beginning to lift travel bans and business confidence is slowly recovering in key markets, including China, the United States and Germany, Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s chief executive, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The initial green shoots will take time — possibly years — to mature,” he said.
To accelerate that recovery, airlines are taking a wide range of measures aimed at addressing health concerns, including requiring masks for passengers and employees, leaving some seats empty, conducting temperature screenings and even, in some cases, drawing blood to test for the coronavirus.
In the United States, airlines are seeing a tepid recovery. In mid-April, the number of people screened at federal airport checkpoints was down as much as 96 percent, compared with last year. On Tuesday, it was down 88 percent.
To offset that devastating loss in revenue, many airlines, Delta and United among them, began using otherwise idled passenger planes for all-cargo flights, many of which transported crucial medical supplies from China to the United States and other countries. Those flights were unaffected by China’s March ruling and Wednesday’s Transportation Department order.