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Airline shares soar as passenger numbers hit a pandemic high (2nd bailout TBD)

Tuesday, August 11, 2020 by Robinhood Snacks |

Restock the Terra chips... Airlines are (kind of) back. Airline stocks surged on some high-flying TSA data: on Sunday, the number of people passing through US airport checkpoints was the highest since pre-lockdowns. Delta and American shares surged over 7%, United soared 9%, and Southwest got a 5% bump.

  • On April 15, aka peak pandemic, just 90K people passed through TSA checkpoints — that's 97% fewer passengers than April 15, 2019.
  • From April-July, passenger numbers (very) slowly but surely ticked up, coming in at ~700K/day on average in July (still 75% less than last year).
  • On Sunday, 832K passengers passed through US airport checkpoints, the highest since March 18. While that's a big jump, it's still 70% fewer passengers than last year.

It trends well, but does it end well?... Investors like how passenger numbers are trending, and this latest milestone has made hopes take off. But much of this surge is likely a result of the summer travel rush.

  • TBD whether the trend will continue as the off-peak season hits in the fall — especially if COVID cases continue to surge in the US. Meanwhile...
  • Airlines are burning through the $25B in government bailouts they received in April. Under the terms, they can't make layoffs or job cuts until October 1st.
THE TAKEAWAY

That October deadline is fast approaching... Even as passenger numbers improve, airline sales don't come close to breaking even with spending. Cash-strapped airlines have warned tens of thousands of employees that they might lose their jobs. Labor unions and airline execs have been pushing for $25 billion in extra aid to preserve jobs through March 2021. President Trump and over a dozen senators have backed them. But unless air travel dramatically picks up soon, even that might not be enough to tide over airlines.