United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby returned to CBS’s Face the Nation yesterday to discuss the latest travel trends. While most of his answers were familiar talking points, we did gain some additional insight on travel to Asia and how long masks will be required onboard.
Scott Kirby Returns To Face The Nation
Travel Demand Won’t Fully Recover Until 2023
Kirby joined host John Dickerson from his home in Beaver Creek, Colorado. First, he distinguished between the return of leisure travel and return of business travel.
“We see a huge desire for people to get back out, reunite with friends and family and connect with the world, and that leisure demand is more than one hundred percent recovered. Lots of pent up demand demonstrates the human desire to reconnect. Business demand is still off 60%. And, of course, a lot of international borders are still closed and long haul market. So we’re not back to 100%, but we’re certainly headed in the right direction.”
This was clear enough prior, though Kirby next provided a recovery timeline that is a bit more conservative than language he has used in the past:
“We don’t think it really recovers in full until 2023. Europe, we expect to be as soon as the borders are open. That will come back largely in full. Probably next summer will be the biggest year in history for Europe. And Asia is probably another 18 to 24 months away. It’s going to take a little longer to get Asia.”
Kirby Hints Masks Will No Longer Be Required After Federal Mask Mandate Lifted
Later in the interview, Dickerson asked about masks, specifically when they would “come off in the planes.” Kirby seemed to hint United would lift it own mask requirements as soon as the federal mask mandate expires:
“Yeah, well, one of the great things about flying on an airplane is it’s literally if you’re going to be indoors with other people, it’s the safest place to be, particularly because the air filtration on the airplane. My guess is that the current government order expires on September 13th And fingers crossed, my guess is it will expire on September 13th, but we’ll wait and see for sure.”
A follow-up would have been helpful here just to get United on the record, but this certainly sounds as if United will not stop requiring masks onboard in tandem with federal rules.
Kirby Says To Expect More Delays…Due To Climate Change
After Dickerson asks Kirby about climate change’s impact on air travel, Kirby focuses on increased hurricanes and thunderstorms:
“I mean, hurricane last week, the first hurricane and the earliest I can ever remember hurricanes, the number of thunderstorm thunderstorm activity. As there’s more heat in the atmosphere, more thunderstorms is making it harder and harder. So what we have to do as an aviation industry at United Airlines is get better at dealing with bad weather because we are going to have more weather extremes.”
Dickerson wonders how an airline can get better at “bad weather.” Kirby explains:
“Yeah, it’s really- it is. It’s much more difficult. We are working on technology to do things like keep the ramp open. That’s one of the biggest things that shuts down airports. If there’s a lightning strike within 5 miles of the airport, it’s closed for 30 minutes and trying to figure out ways that we can keep the ramp open as an example to fly when there is weather in the vicinity, but it’s not as bad.”
Kirby was on once again on Face the Nation, noting travel to Asia may be two years away, United’s onboard mask requirement will likely expire when the federal government’s mandate expires, and climate change will cause more delays.
He also offered input on a number of additional topics not discussed above, which you can view below.