Southwest Airlines warns COVID-19 uptick hitting bookings

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The recent surge in coronavirus cases is hindering airline bookings again, Southwest Airlines warned in a regulatory filing. 

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LUVSOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO.51.57+0.41+0.80%

The carrier disclosed that it has "experienced a deceleration in close-in bookings and an increase in close-in trip cancellations" within the first few weeks of August. 

The decline is "believed to be driven by the recent rise in COVID-19 cases associated with the Delta variant" which is driving a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, according to Southwest. 

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It's a harsh reality for an industry that was particularly devastated last year by the virus-related travel restrictions. The six biggest U.S. airlines lost a combined $34 billion, and Southwest suffered its first full-year loss since Richard Nixon was president. 

A Southwest Airlines Co. check-in kiosk at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Thursday, April 8, 2021.  (Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Southwest is one of the first airlines to report that the variant – now the leading strain of COVID-19 in the U.S. – has affected ticket sales. Recently, Frontier Airlines executives also blamed the variant for weaker bookings in August. 

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"Based on the assumption that COVID-19 cases remain elevated in the near-term and current revenue trends in August continue into September, the Company's current outlook for third quarter 2021 operating revenues has worsened by an estimated three to four points from its previous outlook three weeks ago, compared with third quarter 2019," according to the filing. 

The news comes just after the company reported "strong leisure passenger traffic and fares" in July – both of which surpassed pre-pandemic levels. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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