A summer travel bonanza is exceeding expectations, helping airlines earn profits again and brightening the outlook for the rest of the year. It’s a welcome relief for a battered industry and a sign that the rebound that began this spring appears to be here to stay.
The economic upturn, aggressive cost-cutting and an enormous federal stimulus that paid many salaries have helped to improve the finances of the largest carriers, which took on vast amounts of debt and lost billions of dollars during the pandemic.
This month, consumer spending on airlines briefly exceeded 2019 levels on a weekly basis for the first time since the pandemic began, according to Facteus, a research firm that monitors millions of online payments. Ticket prices have rebounded, too: In June, fares were down only 1 percent from the same month in 2019, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index, which is similarly based on website visits and transactions.
And on Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2.2 million travelers at its airport checkpoints, the most in one day since the start of the pandemic.
planned to hire hundreds of flight attendants and bring back thousands who volunteered for extended leaves during the pandemic.
increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour to retain and attract workers, while Delta is in the middle of hiring thousands of employees. United last month announced plans to buy 270 new planes in the coming years, the largest airplane order in its history and one that would create thousands of jobs nationwide.
Southwest on Thursday reported a profit of $348 million for the quarter that ended in June, its second profitable quarter since the pandemic began. American reported a $19 million profit over the same period, while Delta last week reported a $652 million profit, a pandemic first for each airline. United this week reported a loss, but projected a return to profitability in the third quarter as its business improved faster than forecast.
The financial turnaround has been buoyed by an infusion of $54 billion of federal aid to pay employee salaries over the past year and a half. Without those payments, none of the major airlines would have been able to report profits for the quarter that ended in June. The aid precludes the companies from paying dividends through September 2022.
Each airline offered a hopeful outlook for the current quarter. American projected that passenger capacity would be down only 15 to 20 percent from the third quarter of 2019, while United projected a 26 percent decline and Delta forecast a 28 to 30 percent drop. Southwest, which differs from the other three large carriers in that it operates few international flights, said it expected capacity to be comparable to the third quarter of 2019.
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“We are just really excited about the momentum we’re seeing in the numbers,” Doug Parker, American’s chief executive, told analysts after the company delivered its earnings report.
The financial results and forecasts for the rest of the summer are the latest sign of strength in a comeback that has been building for months. But the airlines have vast amounts of debt to repay — American, the most indebted carrier, announced a plan on Thursday to pay down $15 billion by the end of 2025 — and the rebound hasn’t been free of setbacks.
recent poll from the Global Business Travel Association, an industry association. If other companies follow Apple’s lead in delaying a return to the office, though, the corporate travel recovery could be held back.
Delta said it expected domestic business trips to recover to about 60 percent of 2019 levels by September, up from 40 percent in June. Those figures roughly align with estimates from United.
“The demand is recovering even faster than we had hoped domestically,” Mr. Kirby of United said on Wednesday.
International travel has slowly started to recover, too, as more countries, particularly in Europe, open up to American travelers who can provide proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test. But airlines are lobbying the Biden administration to loosen restrictions in kind, which, they say, will allow the recovery to accelerate.
“I think the surge is coming, and just as we’ve seen it on the consumer side, we’re getting ready for it on the business side,” Mr. Bastian of Delta said last week. “Once you open businesses, offices, and you get international markets opened, I think it’s going to be a very good run over the next 12 to 24 months.”
Australians will have some of the best views of the “super blood moon” this week, but passengers on a one-time flight departing from Sydney will have an even better one.
The Australian airline Qantas will operate a three-hour flight on Wednesday (Tuesday evening in the United States) for about 100 passengers to see the moon enter the Earth’s shadow and turn a blood red color during a total lunar eclipse.
An astronomer from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s national science and research agency, worked with the flight’s pilots to “design the optimal flight path,” a statement from the airline said. The astronomer, Vanessa Moss, will also be aboard the plane to educate passengers on the lunar event.
The flight will climb to a cruising altitude of 43,000 feet, “above any potential cloud cover and atmosphere pollution,” the statement said — the maximum altitude for the plane, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. “Cosmic cocktails and supermoon cakes” will be served.
sold out in less than half an hour.
The flight will depart from and return to Sydney Airport, beginning with a scenic route over Sydney Harbour. Australia’s travel restrictions have been among the world’s harshest, with the government largely prohibiting international travel into or out of the country, even for its own citizens.
Other “flights to nowhere” have departed throughout the pandemic as airlines scrambled to manage the sharp decline in travel. In October, a Qantas flight flew over Australia’s Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales, departing from and landing in Sydney. Tickets for the flight sold out in 10 minutes.
Climate activists have criticized the flights as unnecessary and harmful to the environment. Qantas noted that it would offset carbon emissions for its supermoon flight to a net zero.
For those who won’t be on the supermoon flight, the lunar event will be visible mostly from Australia, East Asia, islands in the Pacific and the Western Americas.
The moon will be closest to Earth at 11:50 a.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time, but on the West Coast of the United States, the views will start at 1:47 a.m. Pacific time on Wednesday.
At least six people who boarded the Ryanair flight in Athens were not on the plane when it finally arrived in Vilnius, Lithuania, the police commissioner of Lithuania said on Monday.
Among the six were the dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who were both detained.
The identities of the other four people who apparently got off the plane after it was forced to land in Minsk, Belarus, on Sunday are not publicly known — and are being investigated by the Lithuanian police.
“What I know is that six people did not arrive in Vilnius,” Renatas Pozela, Lithuania’s police commissioner general, said in a telephone interview with The New York Times.
Further details, he said, “are being looked into as part of the criminal investigation.”
The Lithuanian police opened a hijacking and kidnapping investigation into the forced landing of the plane, and they questioned the pilots after they landed in Vilnius on Sunday evening, Mr. Pozela said.
Police investigators are interviewing the passengers this week, he said.
“The pilots were the priority,” Mr. Pozela said. “We wanted to hear their stories. How did they see the situation? What did they do? Were there other planes?”
Mr. Pozela said he was not yet authorized to disclose any findings of the investigation.
MOSCOW — The strongman president of Belarus sent a fighter jet to intercept a European airliner traveling through the country’s airspace on Sunday and ordered the plane to land in the capital, Minsk, where a prominent opposition journalist aboard was then seized, provoking international outrage.
The stunning gambit by Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, a brutal and erratic leader who has clung to power despite huge protests against his government last year, drew disbelief among European leaders. But it also underscored that with the support of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Mr. Lukashenko is prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to repress dissent.
The Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania, carrying some 170 passengers — among them the journalist, Roman Protasevich, 26 — was flying over Belarus when Belarusian air traffic controllers notified its pilots of “a potential security threat on board” and directed the plane to divert to Minsk, the Ireland-based airline said in a statement.
Mr. Lukashenko, often referred to as “Europe’s last dictator,” personally ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to escort the Ryanair plane to the Minsk airport, his press service said. According to the statement, Mr. Lukashenko gave an “unequivocal order” to “make the plane do a U-turn and land.”
NEXTA Telegram channel, one of the most popular opposition outlets in Belarus, where most independent media organizations were forced to shut down following large-scale protests that convulsed the nation following a disputed presidential election in 2020.
Over the past few years, Mr. Protasevich has been living in Lithuania in exile, fearing imprisonment in Belarus, his home country, where he is accused of inciting hatred and mass disorder and faces more than 12 years in prison if convicted. In November, the country’s main security service, still called the K.G.B., put Mr. Protasevich on its list of terrorists.
Mr. Protasevich’s arrest demonstrated the lengths to which Mr. Lukashenko is ready to go in order to pursue his political opponents. Many of them have sought safe heaven in exile in Lithuania and Poland, but Sunday’s events showed that Mr. Lukashenko can reach them even in the air.
called it “abhorrent” in his Twitter account and demanded that the Belarusian authorities release Mr. Protasevich.
The Belarusian authorities said they took the action after receiving information about the bomb threat and did so even though Vilnius, the plane’s destination, was much closer than Minsk when it was forced down. Mr. Lukashenko and his government are known to use ruses to pursue their political opponents.
The country’s Defense Ministry said in another statement that the country’s air defense forces were put on high alert.
violence, Mr. Lukashenko managed to successfully crack down on protesters, with the country’s security apparatus remaining loyal to him.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Mr. Lukashenko’s main opponent during the last presidential election in August, which was widely regarded as rigged, called the episode with the Ryanair flight “an operation by the special services to hijack an aircraft in order to detain activist and blogger Roman Protasevich.”
“Not a single person who flies over Belarus can be sure of his safety,” she said.
Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed reporting from Brussels, and Niki Kitsantonis from Athens.
FRANZ JOSEF LAND, Russia — Chunky green trucks carry Bastion anti-ship missiles that can be prepared for launch in just five minutes. A barracks building, sealed off from the elements like a space station, accommodates 150 or so soldiers. And a new runway can handle fighter jets, two of which recently buzzed the North Pole.
Franz Josef Land, a jumble of glacier-covered islands in the Arctic Ocean named after a Austro-Hungarian emperor, was until a few years ago mostly uninhabited, home to polar bears, walruses, sea birds and little else. But thanks to a warming climate, all that is changing, and quickly.
Nowhere on Earth has climate change been so pronounced as in the polar regions. The warming has led to drastic reductions in sea ice, opening up the Arctic to ships during the summer months and exposing Russia to new security threats.
Arctic Council, a diplomatic club of nations, including the United States, that share interests in the region.
National Snow and Ice Data Center said last year. The ocean has lost nearly a million square miles of ice and is expected to be mostly ice-free in the summertime, including at the North Pole, by around the middle of the century.
wrote of Russia’s problem of disappearing ice.
Lt. Col. Balabeg A. Eminov is the commander of the anti-ship battery and other facilities on Franz Josef Land, called the Trefoil Base. “The main question in the Arctic is the limited accessibility for ships, because of ice,” he said. “Now the area of open water is increasing, and with it the area for ship activity.”
published last year. The latest U.S. military strategy for the Arctic, published in 2019, refers euphemistically to vanishing ice as the “changing physical environment.”
father of the Russian Navy, and oil paintings of sailing ships in battle.
Moored at its base in Murmansk Fjord, the Peter the Great was also visited by flocks of sea gulls, which flapped around its gray-painted radar masts and over the 20 launch tubes for anti-ship missiles. Sailors with side arms stood watch by the gangplank, seemingly oblivious to the cold rain lashing their faces.
Elsewhere in Murmansk Fjord, and not shown to reporters, is another dimension of the Russian military buildup: a secretive program to train seals and beluga whales for as-yet unknown missions. Satellite images have revealed their sea pens at a special operations site. Two years ago, a trained beluga wearing a mysterious harness, possibly an escapee, turned up in Norway and was nicknamed Whaldimir.
posted the footage online. The United States this month sailed the U.S.S. New Mexico, a Virginia-class submarine, into Tromso, Norway, for a rare call at a civilian port.
In the same vein, the tour for foreign journalists to some of Russia’s most remote and secretive military facilities in the Arctic Ocean seemed intended to highlight the country’s capabilities.
“Inviting journalists to come look at these modernized, reinvigorated Cold War sites is all about signaling,” said Marisol Maddox, an Arctic analyst at the Polar Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center, a research organization in Washington.
Russia, she said, wants to keep up its “strongman persona” in an era of climate change.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — Closed schools and restaurants offering takeout only. Lines around the block at testing sites. Politicians on television urging the public to stay calm.
If the scenes around Taiwan this week have a distinctly early pandemic feel, it is because the coronavirus is only now washing up on the island’s shores in force. A crush of new infections has brought a swift end to the Covid-free normality that residents had been enjoying for more than a year.
By shutting its borders early and requiring two-week quarantines of nearly everyone who arrives from overseas, Taiwan had been managing to keep life on the island mostly unfettered. But all that changed after enough infections slipped past those high walls to cause community outbreaks.
For most of the past week, the government has ordered residents to stay home whenever possible and to wear masks outdoors, though it has not declared a total lockdown. Local authorities are ramping up rapid testing, though some health experts worry that too few tests are being done to stay ahead of the virus’s spread.
1,290 Covid-19 cases and 12 deaths during the entire pandemic.
Adding to the concern: Only around 1 percent of the island’s 23.5 million residents have been vaccinated against the virus so far.
happily shielded from its worst ravages.
Eight months passed last year without a single case of community transmission until an infection in December snapped the streak. Even after that, local infections cropped up only sporadically for months.
Then the tide shifted — gradually, then suddenly.
On April 14, the government began allowing crew members for Taiwanese airlines to quarantine at home for just three days after arriving on long-haul flights, down from the previous requirement of five days.
more pilots and their family members were testing positive, as were employees at a quarantine hotel.
On May 10, a pilot who had been in the United States tested positive after completing his three-day quarantine, but not before he had visited a pub and a restaurant in Taipei.
ordered into rolling 14-day home quarantines. But it was probably too late. A cluster of infections began to emerge among workers and patrons at so-called hostess bars in Taipei’s Wanhua District.
By the end of the week, daily case numbers had soared into the triple digits.
So far, the search for new infections has been concentrated in the populous cities of Taipei and New Taipei, where more than 1,600 people can receive rapid testing each day. Hospitals are also providing slower testing services.
Dr. Chiang Kuan-yu, 37, a physician at Taipei City Hospital, went to Wanhua District on Monday to help run a testing site there. He said there had been big crowds over the weekend, when the case numbers first started to rise. Some people had to wait an extra day to get tested.
“Now there are more resources for testing, so we can keep up better,” Dr. Chiang said.
Chen Shih-chung, Taiwan’s health minister and head of its Central Epidemic Command Center, has urged those with no Covid-19 symptoms and no history of contact to not even come to testing sites, lest they become infected there.
“This only will slow down our search for possible spreaders,” Mr. Chen said in a news briefing. “Don’t go there thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I’m infected, maybe it’s best that I get tested.’ You absolutely must not come.”
early March, and it has since been gradually immunizing health workers and other priority groups. Officials say doses of the Moderna vaccine will arrive soon. Several Taiwanese companies are also developing vaccines.
Taiwanese authorities began working with domestic vaccine producers in January 2020, after the coronavirus’s genetic sequence was made available and before the Chinese city of Wuhan went into lockdown.
“Taiwan got started extremely early,” said Dr. Ho Mei-shang, a research fellow at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at Academia Sinica in Taipei who was involved with the government’s vaccine efforts. “We said at the time, ‘Whatever the vaccine ends up being, we want make it ourselves as quickly as possible.’”
But Taiwan’s insistence on developing and producing its own immunizations may have made officials less quick to snap up overseas vaccines when those started becoming available, Dr. Ho said.
“And then,” she said, “by the beginning of this year, when the pandemic was so severe in so many countries, we just said we’ll wait a little.”
Even after the AstraZeneca vaccine first became available in Taiwan, the low case count meant many people felt no urgent need to get immunized.
Still, Dr. Ho said she was heartened to see how quickly people in Taiwan were adjusting to the new restrictions on daily life, even after such a carefree past year.
Recently, she went for a run at 10 p.m. and forgot to wear her mask at first. But she noticed that even at that hour, everyone else who was out walking and exercising was masked up.
“This is a state of affairs,” she said, “that really sets Taiwan apart.”
Boeing says it has received approval from U.S. aviation authorities for proposed fixes to an electrical problem that grounded a portion of its troubled 737 Max fleet for more than a month. The approval is welcome news for the handful of affected airlines in the United States, where the industry is preparing for a busy summer.
The 737 Max plane was initially grounded in March 2019 after a pair of crashes, separated by months, in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Last November, the Federal Aviation Administration cleared the fleet to fly again provided that Boeing and airlines updated the Max’s flight control software and rerouted some electrical wiring, among other changes.
In December, the plane carried paying passengers in the United States for the first time since the crashes. But last month, Boeing said it had notified 16 airlines and other customers of a potential electrical problem with the Max and recommended that they temporarily stop flying some planes.
Boeing and the F.A.A. said last month that the latest electrical issue was unrelated to the 2019 grounding directive.
said in a notice that the electrical power systems on a new 737 Max 8 airplane “did not perform as expected” during routine tests before it was delivered to an airline. It said the same issue affected certain models of the 737 Max 8 and the 737 Max 9.
Specifically, the notice, known as an airworthiness directive, said design changes to support panels in the Max’s flight deck, or cockpit, had resulted in “insufficient electrical grounding of installed equipment.”
The problem could have resulted in loss of critical functions and other problems on the flight deck, the notice said. It directed Boeing to send comments about proposed modifications by mid-June.
Boeing said in a brief statement on Wednesday that it had received final approval from the regulator for the proposed modifications and issued “service bulletins for the affected fleet.” Airline manufacturers typically issue service bulletins to notify a plane’s owner about a change or improvement in a component.
Boeing also said that airlines were preparing to return the affected jets to service and that it planned to resume deliveries of the plane. The company did not provide a timeline or further details.
reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.
Boeing also appeared to make progress this week on another issue affecting a different model of plane, the 777. Dozens of 777 planes equipped with a Pratt & Whitney engine were grounded worldwide in February after one suffered an engine failure over Colorado. Video of the episode was startling, though the pilots landed the plane safely and no injuries were reported.
After that engine failure, the F.A.A. required that all fan blades in that type of engine be inspected. On Wednesday, the agency’s administrator, Steve Dickson, said the agency was also requiring that manufacturers strengthen the engine cowling, or housing. The “exact timing and requirements” of such a fix had not been determined, the agency said in a statement.
The 2019 crashes aboard the 737 Max killed 346 people and deeply damaged Boeing’s once-sterling reputation. The company later fired its chief executive and paid billions of dollars in fines, settlements and lost orders.
In January, Boeing agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion in a legal settlement with the Justice Department stemming from the 737 Max debacle. The agreement resolved a criminal charge that had centered on the actions of two employees who withheld information from the F.A.A. about changes made to software that was later implicated in both crashes.
BAGHDAD — Lockheed Martin said Monday that it was withdrawing its maintenance teams for Iraq’s F-16 fighter jets for security reasons, as the Iraqi government struggles to end rocket attacks by militias suspected of being backed by Iran.
The departure by the U.S. weapons manufacturer from Balad air base, 40 miles north of Baghdad, highlights the Iraqi government’s inability to rein in the militias, which are thought to be behind attacks on U.S. interests. It comes a year after the Iraqi prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, took power pledging to reduce Iranian influence in the country.
The decision by Lockheed Martin is expected to ground the few remaining F-16s from Iraq’s fleet that were still operational. That is casting doubt on Iraq’s ability to fight Islamic State militants without substantial U.S. help, at a time when Mr. Kadhimi is under pressure to negotiate a withdrawal of all American forces.
“In coordination with the U.S. government and with employee safety as our top priority, Lockheed Martin is relocating our Iraq-based F-16 team,” Joseph LaMarca Jr., a company vice president for communications, said in a statement.
American drone strike in Baghdad that killed a prominent Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qasim Soleimani, and a senior Iraqi security official at Baghdad International Airport.
Those tensions threatened to flare again last week after a detailed Yahoo News report about the drone strike, which said it was carried out by U.S. operatives with the help of Israeli intelligence and the participation of Kurdish counterterrorism forces. The government of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region has denied that its forces participated.
Iran-backed militias are also believed to be responsible for the continued assassinations of Iraqi human rights activists, many of them in oil-rich southern Iraq. Demonstrators set fire to trailers and tires near the Iranian consulate in Karbala on Sunday after Ihab al-Wazni, a protest leader and anti-corruption campaigner, was shot in the head. Few of the dozens of assassinations have led to criminal charges.
The Iraqi prime minister, in an interview recorded Saturday with several Iraqi television channels, said Iraq was trying to persuade the remaining U.S. companies that their employees would be safe, and acknowledged the F-16 program had been problematic.
“The lack of experts to maintain aircraft according to the agreement signed with the American companies when buying them is a problem,” he said. “Some of these companies withdrew from Iraq due to irrational actions and the missile attack on Balad Air Base.”
It was not clear whether Mr. Kadhimi was referring to the latest rocket attack on May 3, targeting the Balad compound of another U.S. military contractor, Sallyport. No casualties were reported in that attack, but local employees of some Iraqi contractors have been killed and wounded.
investigation by Iraq Oil Report found that because of the maintenance problems, Iraqi pilots were not able to log enough flying hours to remain qualified. It also reported widespread corruption at the Iraqi-run base, including the embezzlement of jet fuel and the fabrication of waivers for substandard parts used in repairs on the F-16s.
One returning pilot lost control of an aircraft during landing and skidded off the runway into a ditch. Another just returning from furlough forgot to activate a critical anti-icing system designed to prevent hazards in cold weather. Several others flew at the wrong altitudes, which they attributed to distractions and lapses in communication.
In all of these incidents, which were recorded on NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, a database of commercial aviation mistakes that are anonymously reported by pilots and other airline crew, the pilots involved blamed the same thing for their mistakes: a lack of practice flying during the pandemic.
In 2020, global air passenger traffic experienced the largest year-on-year decline in aviation history, falling 65.9 percent compared with 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association. Flights were grounded, schedules reduced and thousands of pilots were laid off or put on furlough for up to 12 months.
As vaccination programs pick up speed across some parts of the world and travel starts to rebound, airlines are beginning to reactivate their fleets and summoning pilots back as they prepare to expand their schedules for the summer.On Thursday, the T.S.A. recorded the second-highest day of airport screenings since the pandemic hit: more than 1.64 million.
But returning pilots can’t just pick up where they left off.
“It’s not quite like riding a bike,” said Joe Townshend, a former pilot for Titan Airways, a British charter airline, who was laid off when the pandemic hit in March last year.
“You can probably go 10 years without flying a plane and still get it off the ground,” he said, “but what fades is the operational side of things.”
“The speed surprised me for one or two seconds, and my heart raced,” Mr. Gaad said. “The buildup of speed, the buildup of altitude, the speed that you need to control during landing and other phases, it’s entirely different from what you’re used to, but then after oneor two flights you get used to it.”
Another new reality for pilots flying during the pandemic: preparing to operate planes that have been parked for extended periods of time. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, or EASA, responsible for civil aviation safety in the European Union, has issued guidelines for identifying hazards like worn out aircraft parking brakes or wildlife nesting in the aircraft engine.
“Airlines must factor in that pilots may need longer than normal to perform the necessary preflight checks on an aircraft returning to service,” said Patrick Ky, the executive director of the agency. “A holistic approach is key.”
Despite the challenges, many pilots feel relieved to be back at work.
“At the beginning there was a lot of worry about the risks of Covid, but now that vaccinations are underway everyone who has been recalled is so happy,” said Sourav Basu Roy Choudhury, a pilot for an American airline, which he did not want to identify because he was not permitted to speak to the news media.
“We love the air, the view, the aircrafts and it’s so much more about those feelings than the money, although in this pandemic you realize that the money is also important.” Mr. Choudhury said. “Everyone is making a big effort with training because they just want to get back.”
Some pilots spent the past year working in warehouses or as delivery drivers just so they could provide for their families; others have not worked at all.
“I felt completely useless and didn’t understand how I could work and train so hard to become a captain, only to find myself at the bottom of the ladder again,” said a former British Airways pilot who asked not to be identified by name because he did not want to jeopardize his chances of being rehired.