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The largest U.S. airline transported the most customers since March 22, when the pandemic was beginning to rapidly spread throughout the world, American told FOX Business Friday.
Despite the gain, the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier cautioned that traveler demand is still down 84 percent compared with this time last year.
“In April, we had a 15 percent load factor and so far, month-to-date in May, we’re at 35 percent,” American Airlines executives said during a digital investor conference. Meanwhile, in April of 2019, the carrier was flying planes that were 85 percent full. The measure, known in the industry as load factor, ticked up to 86 percent in May of that year.
When the pandemic forced the grounding of non-essential travel, American, alongside its competitors, faced record low demand and was forced to shred its flight schedule. The Fort Worth, Texas-based air carrier lost $2.2 billion, or $5.26 a share, in the three months through March as operating revenue plunged 20 percent.
American's update comes as U.S. residents increasingly shun air travel for shorter road trips with lower infection risk. It's a blow to the industry, particularly with the Memorial Day kickoff to the normally lucrative summer vacation season just days away.
Even road travel won't be as high as it usually is, though. According to auto services provider AAA, anecdotal reports suggest that fewer people will hit the road this holiday weekend than in years past.
“Last year, 43 million Americans traveled for Memorial Day Weekend – the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday travel volumes in 2000,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel. “With social distancing guidelines still in practice, this holiday weekend’s travel volume is likely to set a record low.”
To date, Memorial Day 2009, which came toward the end of the Great Recession, holds the record for the lowest travel volume, seeing only 31 million travelers, according to AAA.
Online bookings through the organziation, however, have been slowly rising since mid-April, suggesting travelers’ confidence is slowly improving.
Once travel is once again deemed safe, AAA predicts U.S. travelers will prefer mostly local and regional locations and what the company calls the "great American road trip."