JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes told CNBC on Tuesday he was optimistic that the deployment of coronavirus vaccines would help kick-start demand for air travel around the world, drawing on his experience with his own family.
“Just before coming on this show, I just called my mother over in the U.K. She just had her Covid vaccination today,” Hayes said on “Closing Bell.” “She’s already planning her trip to come see me and her grandkids in 2021. There are hundreds of millions of people like her all over the world,” he added, calling the Covid-19 vaccine “a game changer for everybody.”
The airline industry has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, which delivered duel health and economic crises. While air travel has improved from its coronavirus-era low in the spring, traffic levels remain significantly below 2019 levels. On Monday, for example, 752,451 people went through TSA’s security checkpoints, compared with 2,250,386 on the same weekday last year, according to U.S. government data.
However, the start of Covid-19 vaccinations have offered hope of a more complete economic recovery in 2021, particularly in beleaguered sectors like travel and hospitality. The administration of Pfizer and BioNTech‘s vaccine began in the U.K. last week and in America this week.
Supplies are limited at first, but manufacturing capacity is expected to ramp up considerably next year, allowing for more people to be immunized. Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who leads the Trump administration’s vaccine efforts, has said every American could be vaccinated against Covid-19 by June.
For JetBlue, specifically, Hayes said he was confident in the company’s decision to begin offering trans-Atlantic flights to London in the coming months.
“We actually think starting flights to London next summer is actually going to be perfectly timed,” Hayes said. “It may be less business travelers than normal, but the price point we’re going to come in with, I think, is going to make our new Mint, or premium, experience very accessible for many leisure travelers as well.”
“We see our leisure business largely recovered by the end of next year. We think business travel will take a little bit longer but that’s only about 15% to 20% of what we fly,” he said. “And we’ve been able to repurpose a lot of that capacity into new leisure markets.”
Although Hayes expects flight demand to improve throughout 2021, the New York City-based airline is continuing to take steps to keep costs in check. CNBC reported last week that reduced salaries for top executives will persist into next year and merit raises for most employees will be paused.