Southwest Airlines says the COVID-19 Delta variant is hurting its business. In a regulatory filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the airline said customers have been booking fewer flights so far in August and are steadily canceling flights they've already booked.
The end result is that Southwest expects its operating revenue estimates for August to be 15% to 20% below what they were in August 2019 and 3% to 4% less than it forecasted only three weeks ago.
Southwest isn’t holding out much hope that the downturn will reverse course anytime soon. Based on the assumption that COVID-19 cases will remain elevated in the near term, the company predicts that its operating revenue will be down 15% to 25% in September from the same period in 2019. The company said there was one bright spot in September -- Labor Day travel -- but officials said that prediction was based on bookings and cancellations “thus far.”
Is air travel headed backward?
Airlines are hoping they won’t have to go through the same financial straits that they experienced over the last year of the pandemic. When restrictions started loosening up in May and June, the pent-up demand from travelers gave airlines hope that they were headed for clear skies again.
But the arrival of the Delta variant changed things quickly. Just weeks ago in July, Southwest said things looked great for the remainder of 2021 based on the volume of trips people were booking, prompting president Tom Nealon to say "we have not seen any impact from the Delta variant."
Southwest isn’t the only airline to feel the pinch of the Delta variant. The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) latest checkpoint travel numbers for August 10 were back to where they were two months ago, a state that’s 30% below the volume processed in August 2019.