Expect Fewer Flights, Higher Fares Because of COVID-19 Crisis

Airline insiders tell NBC News sweeping changes are being ushered in because of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

NBCUniversal, Inc.

The coronavirus pandemic could result in long-lasting change for the airline industry, including higher ticket prices, longer wait times at airports, and the potential end for food and beverage service on most flights.

Multiple airline executives and industry insiders tell NBC News that it could take two to four years for passenger volume to return to what it was prior to the start of the outbreak earlier this spring. Air travel is down approximately 95% in recent weeks.

If airlines are required to enforce social distancing practices, ticket prices may rise by as much as 50%, according to Alexandre de Juniac, the head of the International Air Transport Association, the global air transportation authority.

Delta and Easyjet have already confirmed that they will temporarily eliminate the middle seats on its planes to help create a safe distance between passengers and “those who are not part of their travel party,” NBC News reported.

Passengers on Frontier Airlines must pay an extra fee if they want the middle seat blocked, the company announced Monday.

In addition to higher prices, inflight food and drink service will either be eliminated on most flights or at least look very different. Fort Worth-based American Airlines has already suspended meals and drinks except for international flights. Delta has encouraged customers to bring their own food in order to "reduce physical touchpoints between customers and employees,” NBC News reported.

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