Airlines begin to see drop in travel demand as virus numbers rise
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A surge in coronavirus caseloads across the nation is starting to dampen the enthusiasm of leisure travelers, and some airlines are warning of weaker bookings.
© Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images A Southwest Airlines pilot checks his plane from the cockpit window at a gate of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. (Photo by Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images)

A surge in coronavirus caseloads across the nation is starting to dampen the enthusiasm of leisure travelers, with one major airline warning Wednesday that the more contagious delta variant could darken the outlook through fall.

Southwest Airlines, the nation's fourth-largest domestic carrier, said it is seeing weaker bookings this month amid a jump in coronavirus infections. The airline said if caseloads remain elevated, that downward demand trend is likely to extend into September.

The report comes after Southwest and several other carriers earlier this summer reported strong passenger numbers and fares above July 2019 levels.

In a filing Wednesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Southwest said "the Company has recently experienced a deceleration in close-in bookings and an increase in close-in trip cancellations in August 2021, which are believed to be driven by the recent rise in COVID-19 cases associated with the Delta variant."

The announcement is an alarm bell about the variant's spread for an industry that only last month was expressing confidence that air travel demand would continue to grow. Many airlines in recent weeks have announced hiring plans to capitalize on travel approaching pre-pandemic levels.

Until this month, airline executives had said there were no significant indications that the delta variant was depressing demand for travel. Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines declined to provide information Wednesday about the variant's impact on recent bookings and cancellations.

Southwest is the second airline to warn recently that the highly contagious delta variant is taking a hit on air travel. Frontier Airlines last week said it was seeing a decline in bookings.

"The impact of the Delta variant on bookings, and…
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