COVID Casualties

Predictions, Observations, and Farewells Amidst Coronavirus.

The question I keep getting hit with is: What will air travel look like post-COVID?

Obviously it’s too early to know. There are so many moving parts to this. It’s happening globally, at different speeds, across a diverse range of cultures and economies and market environments. Things will be in flux for a long time, with no defined end. 

Much has already happened, however, and there are signs and signals as to what may lay ahead. Airlines have fallen, trends are emerging, protocols are being set. Below is a look at what we’ve seen, and some thoughts on what comes next, both for airlines and their customers.

This post will be updated periodically as events occur, and as the author’s aggravation levels rise and fall.

 

June 23, 2020. Political Masking.

After the 2001 attacks, it was mostly people on the right who bought into the hype and fear; who saw terrorists around every corner and were willing to sign off on things like the Patriot Act, TSA, the Iraq War, and so forth. Left-leaning people resisted. This time, it’s left-leaning people who are the more fearful and pessimistic, while those on the right are advocating for a softer, more laissez-faire approach.

Both crises are similarly sinister in the way they they’ve warped people’s thinking and behavior, but they’ve attracted opposite crowds. Why? I suspect it’s because people who lean right are more naturally drawn to responses involving power and conflict; going after enemies, etc — all the things that came into play after 9/11. This particular crisis, on the other hand, centers on concepts like compassion and “saving people.” Thus it has galvanized that mindset instead of the more reactionary one.

Regardless of the reasons, the more this becomes politicized into a left/right conflict, the longer it’s likely to drag on. Often unfairly, people are being put into two camps. Those in favor of harsh quarantines are Democrats. Those in favor of easing them and opening the economy are pro-Trump. This prejudice extends to the wearing of masks. I live in West Somerville, Massachusetts, one of the most progressive neighborhoods in America. One of the reasons I enjoy living here is because it’s so progressive. Yet suddenly, because I don’t fully toe the line on masks, I’m a pariah. Around where I live, mask compliance is virtually 100 percent, whether indoors and outdoors. It’s common to see people wearing masks even in isolation, well apart from others: sitting alone in a park, in their yards, or on their porches. Or when riding a bike. The idea that riding a bicycle with a mask on is a useful measure that helps “saves lives” is patently absurd. The most liberal Democrat in the world should understand that. But if I’m seen riding maskless on the pathway out through Cambridge and Arlington, I’m verbally harassed and immediately pigeonholed as a Trump supporter — which I assuredly am not. A pedestrian without a mask? That’s out of the question in this neck o’ the woods. I’ve had neighbors refuse to cross my path, even on the other side of the street!

At least around here, masks aren’t merely a practical tool against the virus; they’re are also a signal and a symbol. The crisis has become a social movement, a cause, and anti-Trump sentiment is absolutely part of it. Which is mostly Trump’s fault. He sowed the seeds for this, and it’s hardly a surprise that it’s gone this way. Nevertheless, politicizing COVID discourages people from thinking clearly or freely about what’s happening. Instead you’re assigned a “side” and expected to follow along. Never before has the nation needed to be more united around a cause, and instead we’re being wedged apart — on an issue that requires tough decision-making and bravery, not partisanship. Nonsense like this could postpone any meaningful recovery until after the election. For some, I imagine that’s the intent.

 

June 14, 2020. Creep.

Masks. Social distancing. Remember when taking off your shoes at airport security was just a “temporary” measure put in place after Richard Reid attempted to ignite his sneakers on a flight from Paris to Miami in 2001? Remember when the liquids and gels limits were a “temporary” restriction that came about after the London bomb plot in 2006? We have a habit of growing acclimated to even the most time-wasting inconveniences, long after they cease making sense. And rarely do the regulators or policy-makers enjoy undoing what they’ve done. It’s always a lot harder to rescind a rule than it was to put that rule in place.

Just saying.

 

May 26, 2020. Dominoes.

The newest addition to the 2020 bankruptcy flying circus is LATAM. Crippled by lockdowns and global quarantines, the carrier has filed for Chapter 11 protection. By far the largest airline in South America, LATAM traces its origins to the founding of LAN Chile in 1929. It was formed eight years ago when the LAN group, with operations mostly in Chile, Peru and Ecuador, joined forces with TAM of Brazil. The airline flies passenger and cargo services to 30 countries with a fleet of approximately 300 aircraft, including Boeing 787 and Airbus A350. LATAM is 20 percent owned by Delta Air Lines, with Qatar Airways controlling another ten percent.

 

May 19, 2020. Coast to Coast.

This past weekend I flew from New York to Los Angeles and back. The plane was about half full in both directions. That’s a hundred people, give or take, on a route that has been heavily consolidated (seven or eight daily flights reduced to one or two). It felt good to be back in the seat, though as happened last time I was left a little shaken by the spectacle of two of the world’s busiest airports almost utterly void of people.

The captain and I discussed books, travel, and airline history. I don’t think we mentioned coronavirus more than a couple of times. Like me he’s a bit of an airline trivia buff — a highly unusual trait among pilots, believe it or not — which provided some pleasant distraction.

If you haven’t flown in a while, brace yourself for a whole new onslaught of public address announcements. As if the PA cacophony wasn’t obnoxious and nerve-wracking enough before COVID; it’s been taken to the next level. Curbside to curbside, it’s blah blah blah masks, blah blah blah social distancing, blah blah blah aircraft cleaning, blah blah blah in accordance with the CDC, blah blah blah for the safety of crew and passengers. Boarding and deplaning are now longer and more complicated affairs, with every step of the way accompanied by some noisy and patronizing announcement.

I understand that passengers take comfort in an airline’s efforts to keep them safe. This is important. It’s also important not to scare them half to death or drive them crazy.

 

May 18, 2020. The Hits Keep Coming.

Colombia’s Avianca and Thai Airways are the latest major carriers to declare bankruptcy.

Avianca is the second-oldest airline in the world, and celebrated its 100th birthday this past December. Imagine making it through the Great Depression, World War II, and every other crisis to have come and gone over the last century, only to get knocked out by COVID in fewer than 90 days.

Thai, grounded since late March, dates to 1960 and operates a fleet of approximately 80 aircraft. The airline had been floundering for years until coronavirus broke its back.

Both companies hope to reorganize and resume flying. Thai is government-owned, giving it some hope, but could still go the way of South African (see below) if a bailout isn’t forthcoming.

 

May 8, 2020. That Didn’t Take Long.

Forty-eight hours, give or take. See my update below on temperature checks at airports. Just today Frontier Airlines became the first U.S. airline to require the infrared fever-screening of passengers. If your reading is 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, you cannot travel.

It’s just a short matter of time before the other carriers follow suit, and at some point TSA (or a whole new agency) will take control of the operation, setting up checks at a centralized location at or near the security checkpoint. Just a “temporary measure,” of course. Sure.

And that’s the scary part. Twenty years after September 11th and we’re still doing liquid confiscations and taking our shoes off. Nobody can really explain why. Is it crazy to think that twenty years from now we’ll still be wearing masks and having our temperatures checked?

More lines to stand in, temperature scans, mandatory masks, no onboard service, higher fares, scared passengers… I’d say the airlines are just about screwed.

 

May 7, 2020. Normal Nothing.

If I hear the phrase “new normal” one more time, I’m going to need medication. I understand that certain measures are necessary and helpful under the circumstances. One thing they are not, however, and should never be, is normal. Nothing about this is normal. Yet there are elements of society, both cultural and political, that appear troublingly eager to make a lot of what we’re doing permanent.

Other terms and phrases that have worn out their welcome include “abundance of caution,” “Zoom,” and “front lines.” Did you know that supermarket cashiers are now called “Front line food distribution workers.”

 

May 6, 2020. Grounded.

Several readers have asked if I’ve been flying. The answer is yes and no. Mostly no. In mid-March I worked a four-day trip to Ghana. Since then, the only thing I’ve done was a simple domestic out-and-back one day about two weeks ago. I bid and received normal schedules for April and May, but every assignment was quickly canceled.

Like many pilots, I’m effectively being paid to sit home. I realize there are far worse fates, but almost nothing about it has been enjoyable. We’re protected through the end of the summer. After that, who knows. Best case is that I’m looking at a significant pay reduction in the fall. Worst case… I’d rather not talk about it. I spent almost six years out of work after 9/11. The thought of having to go through that again is too much.

To repeat something I brought up in an earlier post: What a lot of people don’t realize is that for pilots, should you find yourself laid off, or if your airline goes out of business, you cannot simply slide over to another airline and pick up where you left off. The way airline seniority systems work, there is no sideways transfer of benefits or salary. If you move to a different company, you begin again at the bottom, at probationary pay and benefits, regardless of how much experience you have. You lose everything. So any threat to our companies makes us nervous.

And for any near the bottom of any seniority list, disaster is coming. Thousands of those pilots are about to lose their jobs, possibly for years.

 

May 5, 2020. On the Horizon.

Whats that in my crystal ball? It’s masks. Several carriers now require passengers and crews to wear face coverings. Don’t be startled if regulators step in and make them mandatory. And whether it’s the law or not, they won’t be going away. Expect many passengers to keep wearing them long after the COVID crisis subsides.

And coming soon to a checkpoint near you: temperature checks. You often see these machines when passing through immigration at airports overseas. I have a feeling you’ll be seeing them in the U.S. as well, giving you the infrared once-over before you’re allowed to board. This is great news, because if passengers want anything, it’s another line to stand in.

Overseeing these new measures will be the Transportation Health Administration (THA), to be formed early next year by President Biden.

That last one is facetious. Right?

 

May 3, 2020. Let’s Catastrophize.

You know what would really suck right now for a U.S. carrier? An accident. A crash.

On our side is the fact that airlines have slashed their timetables more than 90 percent, vastly decreasing the likelihood of a disaster. Still, and much as I hate saying it, we’re overdue for one. There hasn’t been a major crash involving a mainline U.S. carrier in almost twenty years — by far the longest such streak in aviation history. Carriers are in dire straits as it is. A mishap could put one under. Airline workers are under a lot of stress right now. It’s important we keep our heads in the game.

 

April 26, 2020. Knockout Number Two: Virgin Australia.

Virgin Australia, the second-largest carrier Down Under, has gone into receivership. The company, co-founded by Richard Branson as Virgin Blue twenty years ago, operated close to a hundred aircraft to over 50 cities throughout Australia, Asia, and the United States. On April 20th the airline entered voluntary administration and filed for bankruptcy. Supposedly a couple of Chinese banks are eyeing VA’s assets with plans to resuscitate the brand, but details are unclear. For now, Virgin Australia becomes the second of what we might call “major” airlines to be punched out by the COVID panic. Others will follow.

 

April 10, 2020. Knockout Number One: South African Airways.

South African Airways has ceased operations after 86 years. The company had been struggling for some time, and in early April the South African government announced it would cut off any further assistance, forcing the airline close its doors and and lay off all remaining staff. This is a very depressing one. South African Airways was one of the world’s “classic” legacy carriers. In the 1970s and 1980s, its 707s, 747s, and 747SPs helped pioneer ultra long-haul flying (albeit during the apartheid years, when airspace bans often forced its planes to take circuitous routings). Its demise is no less sad than the fates that befell Swissair, Sabena, and some of the other great airlines. Gone too is the carrier’s legendary radio callsign: Springbok. Its “flying springbok” logo from 1971, pictured below, was one of the all-time best.

I flew South African Airways three times, aboard 747, 737, A330 and A320 aircraft, on routes between Johannesburg and New York, Windhoek, Lusaka and Victoria Falls.

There’s talk of a new national carrier emerging from the ashes. Chances are it’ll be given some awful-sounding name like “Sunjet.com,” a low-budget paint job and some goofy-sounding callsign.


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44 Responses to “COVID Casualties”
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  1. Kevin Brady says:

    The seniority situation at airlines is so archaic and makes very little sense. It would be like a PGA Tour Pro having to start again as a caddy if there was a competitive tour. You would think there could be a work around with something like hours flow maybe with credit given as a percentage for experience. Of course, the airlines would have to pay more that way, and younger pilots would object-I recall they finally allowed flying past age 60 even though younger pilots objected.

    Along with health, it got to be something hangin over pilots heads throughout their whole career. Skill and experience on the job should count-today its plain luck.

  2. Michael says:

    Patrick,

    Hello neighbor. Thanks for the always interesting posts. I agree with you on the masks here. There are lots of situations where they’re very effective at protecting others (supermarket, shops and other indoor venues, protest marches, etc.) and many where they’re not (driving in your car, riding your bike, walking on the bike path or sidewalk when no one else is around, etc.)

    Curtatone has just relaxed the mask guidelines: “when you are outside and able to social distance at least six feet from others, you may temporarily remove your face covering but must put it back on when others are nearby” which seems reasonable to me and more or less what we’ve been doing…

    In any case, no one should be hassling others for not wearing masks, especially outdoors; there are lots of legitimate reasons for not doing so and it’s none of your business why, just walk around… Also, for the record, wearing a mask in the summer sucks.

  3. Colorado says:

    @Andrea G:

    No, you’re wrong. People aren’t wearing masks because they don’t like Trump. They’re wearing masks because it is the correct thing to do. But that’s a great example of right wing projection.

    People are wearing masks all over the world, @Andrea G. Are the people wearing masks in Singapore doing it because the oppose Trump? in Dubai? In Bulgaria? No, they are doing it because they have been advised that doing so slows the spread of the virus.

    I’ve heard from many Trump fans who think that all of this Covid stuff is just a conspiracy to make Trump look bad. Yikes. I try to answer logically – such as pointing out that nearly every nation on the planet is reacting similarly or with more restrictions – they can’t ALL be doing that just to make Trump look bad. The one nation that became an unlikely hero to the right wing – Sweden – because they didn’t issue strong anti-Covid restrictions is now publicly stating that this was a major mistake (literally the same person who set the policy has admitted as much).

    • Patrick says:

      Masks might be the “correct thing to do” in certain circumstances. The problem that I’m highlighting, though, is how certain people have taken a good idea — masks — and carried it to a ludicrous extreme. And to an extent, it is political. Around here, masks aren’t merely a practical tool against the virus. They are also a signal, and the crisis has become a social movement, a cause, and anti-Trump sentiment is absolutely part of it. Which is mostly Trump’s fault. He sowed the seeds for this, and it’s hardly a surprise that it’s gone this way.

  4. Andrea G says:

    I think the partisan swing between the Right willing to give up civil liberties in the wake of 9/11 and the Left willing to give up those liberties during the Covid pandemic is also tied to the party that holds the Presidency. Republicans agreeing to greenlight intrusive measures to support Bush. With Covid, Id bet alot of mask wearing orthodoxy amongst Democrats stems from opposition to Trump. One of the many things that has gotten under my skin during the pandemic is people saying/writing “believe science”. Science is absent of faith and belief. Science is theories and conclusions reached by careful and continuous research and supported by thorough studies and replicatible experiments. And unlike religious ideologies, “science” changes and evolves as new information is available. Turning every aspect of our lives into absolutist partisan battles does nothing but harm and it doesnt seem like things will improve any time soon, its only getting worse.

  5. A. Zaki says:

    Good to hear that you are still flying

  6. Bruce says:

    @Alex –

    Look, just for clarity, yes, the Chinese government lies about stuff. Of course it does. For one thing, it’s a government, and governments lie. Yours does. Mine does. Theirs does. For another, it’s a one-Party state, and it’s a lot easier to lie when you’re not held to account by an opposition or a free press.

    That’s why it’s easy for the international press, and for Washington, London and Canberra, to accuse China of lying on coronavirus. (And for them to accuse China of lying on things like emissions policies in order to cover up their own failings and lies.)

    The Chinese government is lying now (in large part to benefit American farmers!) about Australian barley dumping. That has been the focus of my work this week.

    But that track record is also what makes the fact that I know they’re not lying about coronavirus really significant. And that your government and your media are lying.

    I know this is a complicated issue. It is hard to understand, and reporting is confusing. But you really need to question your sources. Look at their motivations. Why would the President of a country with 90,000+ reported deaths and vast economic damage want to shift the blame to someone else? Why would his supporters in the media do the same? Is everything really what they say it is?

  7. Bruce says:

    @Alex –

    —–It has nothing to do with their form of government or their race. It has to do with the fact that their government has long-term, documented history of dishonesty. —–

    Mmmm… Yours doesn’t, though! I remember this one time when the US President said that coronavirus was nothing to worry about! And that time when he said he wore a mask at a mask factory! And the time he said he had the biggest crowd at any inauguration! I could go on… Obviously. Even mention lies under other Presidents. With words like Vietnam. Or Pinochet. Or WMDs. But I won’t.

    ——“And on this, they’re telling the truth.” And what brings you to that conclusion?—–

    Vast amounts of research. Like I said, it’s my job. I get paid by large multinationals to tell them when China is lying and when it’s not. I work hard on this, and so do my staff. The Economic Times, meanwhile, reprints made-up nonsense from a xenophobic “historian” in a Murdoch newspaper that’s been retweeted by someone known mostly for lying. And you Googled it! So that’s research too!

    I know which of those approaches you’ll trust, unfortunately – retweeted lunacy always trumps rigorous research – and I know that this is how the world works. It doesn’t matter how much truth China tells or doesn’t tell: you, and many like you, have made up your minds. They did this deliberately because they hate you.

  8. Bruce says:

    @Alex –

    The Wuhan airport thing.

    There are normally multiple direct flights on Chinese airlines from Wuhan to Australia every day. From mid-January onwards, there were none. Because they had been banned, both by Australia and by China. The Australian government arranged specially-chartered Qantas flights to pick up Australians trapped in Wuhan: it took ages for this to be arranged.

    So there’s an anecdotal thing. Here’s something more numbers-based and global.

    https://www.factcheck.org/2020/05/trumps-flawed-china-travel-conspiracy/

    China stopped international flights out of Wuhan on January 23.

    —-

    The Economic Times is part of the wildly-nationalist Times of India group. Both the Times of India and the Economic Times have a track record of parroting Trump-led conspiracy theories and any anti-China conspiracy theory they can get their hands on.

    So this conspiracy theory – initiated by Niall Ferguson in The Times (the British Murdoch paper), promoted by Trump, and aimed to show that the Chinese are all criminals who can’t be trusted – really is right up their street.

    My understanding is that, other than foreign-government-chartered repatriation flights, the only direct flights out of Wuhan after January 23 were direct to Dulles. They carried children, who were taken directly from the plane at Dulles into a blacked-out A-Team van driven by Hillary Clinton directly to the secret basement entrance of Comet Ping Pong Pizza.

  9. Alex says:

    @Bruce

    “Not sure where you got this from (although I have a good idea). International evacuation flights out of Wuhan – chartered by foreign governments – were allowed. Foreign governments had to get permission to do these.”

    You can find this information on many sources. Just doing a quick Google search now I was able to find an article from the The Economic Times (India – just in case you thought my source had an American political bias). Evacuation/charter flights may have been allowed after 3/27, but up until that date they permitted regularly scheduled international departures.

    “I don’t automatically assume they’re lying because they don’t have the same form of government as me, or because they’re not the same race as me.”

    It has nothing to do with their form of government or their race. It has to do with the fact that their government has long-term, documented history of dishonesty.

    “And on this, they’re telling the truth.”

    And what brings you to that conclusion?

  10. Bruce says:

    Anyway, back to topic….

    It’s sad to see Thai going under.

    We last flew on them a couple of years ago – SYD-BKK-HKT and back for a wedding. I’d always thought my kids would never get the chance to fly on a 747, but Thai were still running them on the Sydney-Bangkok route. It was fairly recently renovated, and it was lovely. The kids really enjoyed getting to go on one. Service and food, even in economy, were good too. I suspect these will have been my last – and my kids’ only – flights on 747s.

    Tourism is so fundamental to Thailand’s economy that I can’t see the government allowing its national carrier to disappear, so I’d hope that they’ll resurrect it one way or another.

  11. Bruce says:

    @Alex (Jones?)

    “Bull$hit. China began imposing domestic travel restrictions in/out of Wuhan on Jan. 23, but allowed international flights to continue departing the city until March 27.”

    Not sure where you got this from (although I have a good idea). International evacuation flights out of Wuhan – chartered by foreign governments – were allowed. Foreign governments had to get permission to do these.

    “Please don’t tell me you actually believe the numbers the CCP is releasing…”

    It is in fact my job to know when the CCP is telling the truth about stuff, and when it’s lying. I don’t automatically assume they’re lying because they don’t have the same form of government as me, or because they’re not the same race as me.

    And on this, they’re telling the truth.

    “Then I’d expect you must be outraged at Barack Obama and Eric Holder over the Fast & Furious scandal”

    I didn’t know about this, and I have to admit that I assumed when I read your post that it had all the credibility of Pizzagate.

    But yes, from a quick look, I’m appalled. I’m always appalled by America’s keenness to export its gun problems to the rest of the world.

    Are you trying to make this a Democrat vs Republican thing? It’s not.

  12. Alex says:

    @Bruce

    “For the first week, possibly. But most of this was caused by a belief among epidemiologists that this was going to be as containable as SARS. That mistake was because this was a new thing and they didn’t understand it yet.”

    “Not true.”

    Bull$hit. China began imposing domestic travel restrictions in/out of Wuhan on Jan. 23, but allowed international flights to continue departing the city until March 27. Imagine how many more would be infected if President Trump hadn’t banned travel from China on Jan. 31 (something the left/media including Joe Biden called him a racist and a xenophobe for doing, yet the rest of the world soon followed his lead). China has been suppressing information coming out of the country since last December, including silencing doctors who warned early on of human to human transmission.

    “China (China!) has 4,600 deaths”

    Please don’t tell me you actually believe the numbers the CCP is releasing…

    “Are you aware of the economic and health damage that has been done to Latin America by the US’ failure to contain gun ownership?”

    Then I’d expect you must be outraged at Barack Obama and Eric Holder over the Fast & Furious scandal which shipped thousands of firearms across the Mexican border, most of which ended up in the hands of drug cartels. Yes?

  13. Phil Stotts says:

    Hello Patrick,
    Not to pick nits, but you flew three times on South African Airways on four different airplanes. Does that mean you flew 12 times, or are your fingers just tripping over each other?
    Phil

  14. Bruce says:

    @Alex again – “It’s also evident that the CCP was initially more focused on information suppression and face-saving than containment.”

    For the first week, possibly. But most of this was caused by a belief among epidemiologists that this was going to be as containable as SARS. That mistake was because this was a new thing and they didn’t understand it yet.

    Also, there are two governments which are even now more focused on information suppression and face-saving than containment, and neither of them are China. The head of one of those governments said in the past week “America has risen to the task, we have met the moment and we have prevailed”, while having the highest (and rapidly-rising) number of infections and deaths in the world. The head of the other said “We have so far succeeded in the first and most important task we set ourselves as a nation – to avoid the tragedy that engulfed other parts of the world”, while having the fifth-highest per-capita death rate (and rising) in the world.

    @Alex – “… protecting the rest of China while they allowed international flights to .. departing out of Wuhan.”

    Not true.

    @Alex – “..I think China should have to pay for every penny of economic damage that has been caused by this pandemic.”

    Are you aware of the economic and health damage that has been done to Latin America by the US’ failure to contain gun ownership? How much should they sue for? Are we suing every country for everything now?

  15. Bruce says:

    @Alex – “Can you honestly blame folks for having an anti-Chinese sentiment nowadays? I mean the Chinese government is basically responsible for the situation we’re in today.”

    No, it isn’t. Diseases happen, and they originate in places. The DRC wasn’t responsible for rubella, and Kentucky wasn’t responsible for “Spanish flu”. China acted extremely quickly to contain the virus. Its actions gave the US five weeks to prepare: five weeks that other countries used wisely, but that the US and UK did not use at all. That’s why, as of today, Australia has 98 deaths, Taiwan has 7, China (China!) has 4,600 deaths, the US has about 86,000 and the UK has more than 33,000. Your government (I’m assuming you’re American – forgive me if I’m wrong) messed this one up, and it’s searching for someone to blame so that it can distract from its own failings.

    @Alex – “the evidence does point toward this being a naturally developed virus that escaped from a lab in China”

    No it doesn’t. The White House and the Murdoch press are saying that, and you’re buying it. Five Eyes (the US, UK, NZ, Canada, Australia intelligence-sharing operation) says there is a “less than 5% chance” of that being the case. Other health authorities put the figure lower.

    I can’t “blame folks for having an anti-Chinese sentiment nowadays” because they are being lied to by those who are supposed to inform them.

  16. Mark R. says:

    re: experts and predictions

    I doubt anyone will call this correctly, but I recommend the speculation from Laurie Garrett, who wrote an excellent book in 1994 “The Coming Plague.” She says her best guess scenario is a 3 year corona-crisis. And 3 years to develop and mass produce and then distribute a safe and effective vaccine would be the record.

    If you consider the original SARS, that was about 10% lethal but fortunately not as transmissible as this one. If we had a pandemic with that lethality, there would not be any debate about the dangers, no campaigns to reopen anything, no plausible deniability that it might be a difficult flu.

    I hope predictions for a second wave, especially in the interior of the USA, are wrong. There are economic implications in this happening, but am even more concerned about the psychological breakdown of the society.

    Remember, estimates for US casualties without staying at home were about 2 million, and with the shutdowns between 100 and 240 K. We’re likely to reach 100k next week. It’s anyone’s guess what happens to infection rates once restaurants, shopping mauls, hair salons and the like reopen. While viruses don’t care about politics, it is probably noteworthy that many of the emerging hot spots are in places that voted for Dr. Trump. Painful lessons ahead.

  17. Alex says:

    @Bruce & Tod Davis

    “Sadly though there is a strong anti Chinese sentiment”

    Can you honestly blame folks for having an anti-Chinese sentiment nowadays? I mean the Chinese government is basically responsible for the situation we’re in today. Now I don’t believe the conspiracy theories that this was created as a biological weapon, but the evidence does point toward this being a naturally developed virus that escaped from a lab in China due to carelessness and lax safety standards. It’s also evident that the CCP was initially more focused on information suppression and face-saving than containment (not unlike how the Soviets first tried to cover up Chernobyl). It’s also evident that when they did implement containment measures they were more concerned with protecting the rest of China while they allowed international flights to continue departing out of Wuhan.

    It’s been cited that if China had acted properly to contain this virus from the beginning that 95% of the damage could have been avoided. Thousands of lives could have been saved. Personally I think China should have to pay for every penny of economic damage that has been caused by this pandemic. One can only hope that once this is all over we will see an investigation into this disaster that will make the 9/11 commissions pale in comparison, and that enough of the world will work together to hold China accountable for their wrongdoing.

  18. Alex says:

    “If I’m seen walking or bicycling around my neighborhood without a mask on, I’m immediately pigeonholed as a Trump supporter — which I assuredly am not. The other day when I attempted to explain the concept of herd immunity, and why it’s such a important goal in fighting COVID, her reply was, “Oh that’s a Trump thing.””

    Such nice people up in Boston. Kind of like those folks on Cape Cod who were made to wait too long for their ice cream. They berated and harassed the [teenage] employees so badly that several employees quit and the shop was forced to close.

    https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/05/11/massachusetts-ice-cream-shop-cape-cod-closed-amid-harassment/3107162001/

  19. James Bond says:

    “COVID Gets political”.
    I agree this should not be political and we should not destroy the economy and we should be openly debated the strategy without trying to drown your political opponent. In reality we are divided. One think could be important for both sides and key to opening the economy and aviation is implementation of COVID self test and treatment which drastically reduces mortality. There are some countries which are practically there but not US mostly due to politics which spills over into medicine, this is horrible.

  20. Carlos says:

    @ Eric: What do you prefer then, God Bleach America?

  21. Ben B. says:

    Standard issue for passengers could also include chem-suits and respirators. Walk through a sanitary spray tunnel before boarding. That would most certainly cancel any spread on-board.

  22. Mac says:

    Excellent post as usual, Patrick.

  23. David O. says:

    I just don’t see how mandatory temperature checks can be sustained without destroying the airline industry for good. Imagine you’re returning from vacation with your family and one of your children is running a slight temperature, for any of the 1,000 non-COVID-19 reasons this might happen. Now your’re stuck and you can’t get home. Good luck renting a car and driving back from Hawaii.

    Seriously, is anyone going to take this risk when they can just choose a closer destination and drive?

    No one is going to fly unless absolutely necessary, and there aren’t nearly enough of those people to save commercial air travel. This will be the end of air travel.

  24. Mike says:

    A shame to see South African go under, although it has been on life support for a long time now and seeming unable to find a willing better-financed partner. I guess its fleet of graceful A340s will go to the scrapheap.

    As for a replacement – I wonder if British Airways, which already runs the Comair franchise in Southern Africa might line up as a replacement for long haul to Europe. Either that, or I could see Ethiopian which is rapidly becoming a regional carrier developing a Southern Africa franchise feeding into their global network.

    And you want bright liveries? There’s nothing quite like Mango’s planes under a bright veldt Sun:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mango_(airline)#/media/File:Mango_Boeing_737-800_Smith.jpg

  25. Martha says:

    Ben, re: “If people who have had it don’t develop some immunity, then a vaccine won’t be possible.”

    I’m not sure that’s true. It would only apply to traditional vaccines based on a weakened or deactivated virus. However, there are other models being developed and tested including novel types of vaccines that use RNA and DNA. I don’t profess to be an expert on this, but my brother is, and he told me two successful vaccines were developed for SARS COVID-1 (COVID-19 is technically SARS COVID-2, so they’re closely related), both of which conferred immunity in humans. The years spent on that were not wasted; they provided a template for doing the same with this virus. So there’s some reason to be optimistic about a vaccine.

  26. This is in reply to Craig, comment #11: Re “Herd immunity requires that a certain percentage of the population be vaccinated.” That’s not quite my understanding. Herd immunity actually requires that a majority of the population be immune to the virus. This could be because they harbour a certain number (we don’t know that number yet!) of antibodies in their system, OR that they have been vaccinated – and therefore have antibodies promulgated by the vaccine. So one way or another, it comes down to antibodies. The virus would potentially see those, and go “Oops, nope, been there, done that, gotta go somewhere else.”

  27. Re May 8, temperature-taking before boarding – well and good, BUT. BUT many positive cases will be missed. There are *asymptomatic* people out there – those who have the virus in their system but don’t have symptoms; plus *PREsymptomatic* – those who don’t have symptoms *yet*. As we know, the incubation period is anywhere from 2 – 14 days. Suppose you get on a flight but you don’t have a fever YET? And no cough YET? etc. This is a huge crack that would-be travellers can fall into.

    Personally I would not get on a plane now; the risks are just too damn great. (I was supposed to visit my son & his wife in Brooklyn next month. Now I’m trying to get them to *drive* up to Montreal.)

  28. JRSherrard says:

    About time to form a new political entity – the Pity Party.
    My complaint is about complaint. Many of us – like me – are epidemiology ignorant and spend inordinate amounts of time bloviating about a subject we know little about.
    And we are damn opinionated; the less we know, the more perfervid our expression.
    So it’s with great forbearance that I muzzle myself and suggest, quite humbly, that we are only four months into this pandemic. If ANYONE suggests they understand where we’ll be this summer, this fall, this winter, they’re either liars or fools. We don’t know, with this particular new virus, if immunity can be acquired after infection, or if the virus can return weeks or months later. We don’t know – having not tested enough to find out – what the statistics are.
    We may have a number of answers at some future date, but not now.
    Angry assumptions, therefore, are silly. Bloviation in all its forms is pointless and only reflects the meanest, most tawdry elements of our nature.
    Again I’m writing from the same lack of knowledge and understanding – but I find the vituperation and bitterness shown by so many to be immature, not to mention premature.

    • Patrick says:

      That’s a good comment, and you make good points. You’re fighting human nature, though. And a very strong aspect of it.

      All we have to go on is what the experts indicate are PROBABLY the wisest courses of action, to the best of their knowledge and abilities. I think they have a REASONABLE idea of what to expect.

  29. Kozmo says:

    About this airline seniority system for employees/pilots — I’ve read about this before at this site, but how set in stone is this? The system appears to be outdated or broken in the face of this crisis. Who mandates it and is there any work-around? Can this system be changed? Who does it continue to serve? Is it part of some union deal that could be re-negotiated? Some background context and information would be very helpful to us outsiders.

    • Patrick says:

      It has been like this for many decades and I don’t foresee it changing. It’s not “mandated,” per se. It’s just the way airline crew hierarchies have always been structured (at least in the U.S.). Union contracts are organized around these systems as well; indeed, they are responsible for developing them in the first place. Maybe in the old days they made more sense. Today there is much too much salary disparity between those at the top and those at the bottom, and no protections when moving from one company to another. The idea of a “national seniority list” was tossed around at one point, but the idea never went anywhere.

  30. Jack Palmer says:

    “You move to a different company, you begin again at the bottom, at probationary pay and benefits, regardless of how much experience you have. You lose everything. ”

    if you think only airlines pilots experience this, you are seriously disillusioned. Tons of us in IT, Healthcare, Finance or Retail also lost our jobs in previous lives; we all went back to the end of the line, and had to crawl back, desperately fighting again to progress and be recognized, having to deal with the lucky ones who had seniority but were not as smart as us…
    Do not complain, you are likely unionized, are paid until Fall, have some welfare and social protection from the great Commonwealth (nothing wrong with that) and likely have some savings/equity which will help you survive.
    Do not cry on yourself and help others, much less fortunate. Think on how, with all your skills (intellectual, engineering, airline experience, media and blog talents, etc) you can help our society overcome this challenge so our less fortunate neighbors or children survive.

  31. Katherine Davies says:

    I just wanted to say that I am sorry. As a former flight attendant who was involuntarily furloughed after 9/11 I know something of what you’re feeling. In that “glamorous” job our pay was already hopeless, but starting over again after 3 years of waiting to be called back was not worth it, and I had already taken a job in Europe. Anyway, I hope things do not end up being as dire as they look at the moment. Bon courage.

  32. Bruce says:

    @Tod Davis – “Sadly though there is a strong anti Chinese sentiment in Australia and a lot of people would rather see it go under putting 10,000 people out of work than let China own it.”

    This is very true, and that anti-Chinese sentiment is being fuelled by our media and our politicians. It will cost us a fortune: we’re at risk of losing our biggest export market.

    The idea of this directly putting 10,000 people out of work is of course a major issue. But there is more to it than that. If we lose Virgin, we face a Qantas/Jetstar monopoly. We’ll see massive increases in fares, and very limited services on some routes. That will have a knock-on effect, especially on the economies of smaller towns and rural industries: the 10,000 direct job losses from a Virgin collapse will be the tip of the iceberg.

  33. David O. says:

    Things are particularly surreal here in the Pacific Northwest. WA has a population of 7.5 million, and we’ve had 870 deaths. About 600 of which were elderly nursing home residents, who by definition are not exactly the healthiest segment of our population. For this, our fearless Governor has basically destroyed the entire state, with no end in sight.

    We’re doing our sentence, but we’ve committed no crime. The Governor reminds us often that we’ll be released from house arrest when he says so, and not a minute sooner. In his tweets he always writes the word SCIENCE! in shouting caps. At this point I’d prefer less SCIENCE! from the governor and more STATISTICS.

    Many hospitals here are empty and about to go bankrupt because they haven’t been allowed to do elective surgeries for 2+ months. No one seems to notice or care.

    Lately it seems that we’ve divided society into two groups: There are the privileged few, who get paid to attend Zoom meetings from their bedroom and are just fine doing that forever. And then there are people like my sister in law, who’s spent the last 25 years building a salon business from the ground up and will probably lose everything, her entire life’s work.

    As someone who still has a job in IT, I’m horrified by what’s happening to the people of my community who work in the service industry. Their lives have been destroyed by the lockdown order, and their lives don’t seem to count for much.

  34. Tod Davis says:

    I totally agree David.
    I’m not in the high risk group (I’m only 36) but the social impact is going to be far greater than the virus. We could end up with a society of healthy people who wish they were dead

  35. Tod Davis says:

    Virgin Australia was in trouble to start with however this pushed them over the edge.
    Australia needs virgin, if Qantas got the monopoly there is no saying what would happen to fares plus a lot of regional areas would be cut off.
    Sadly though there is a strong anti Chinese sentiment in Australia and a lot of people would rather see it go under putting 10,000 people out of work than let China own it.
    Virgin are a great airline who have always had competitive fare and great service, sadly I was meant to fly with them this week to Fiji

  36. Ben says:

    Response to Craig: herd immunity comes naturally OR via a vaccine. A vaccine is accelerated herd immunity with low risk. Herd immunity will eventually develop if enough contract it. If people who have had it don’t develop some immunity, then a vaccine won’t be possible.

  37. craig says:

    How are herd immunity and not wearing a mask related? Herd immunity requires that a certain percentage of the population be vaccinated. No vaccine exists. It’s not even clear that people who’ve had it are immune. One purpose of wearing a mask is to protect others; so asymptomatic people don’t infect those they come in contact with. That’s why you should wear one.

  38. Stephanie says:

    As someone married to a South African, I’m going to miss SAA. Even coach was bearable for those 15-hour flights from the US to JNB.

  39. Bruce says:

    Things are looking up, a bit, in Australia.

    Singapore Airlines and a couple of Chinese airlines are rumoured to be interested in Virgin Australia. I’d be surprised if our current government were to allow a Chinese company to buy it, as it wouldn’t fit our government’s “all Chinese people are evil” narrative. (Virgin does have one Chinese minority shareholder – HNA – already, but HNA itself is circling the drain.) But maybe SQ will be allowed to. I really hope someone is allowed to rescue Virgin, because otherwise we’re going to face an effective monopoly on domestic flights.

    But the main way things are looking up is that we seem to have got the virus under control, and so does New Zealand. There’s now talk of a “travel bubble” within the next few months, encompassing Australia and New Zealand, and later maybe some Pacific Islands: once living restrictions are lifted, we’ll be allowed to travel internationally within that bubble. Some prominent people are even suggesting that the bubble be expanded later to other safe countries, like China, Taiwan (yes, I know – it’s not a country) and Vietnam. Travel into and out of the bubble would remain heavily restricted.

    If this happens, it will be great. But I can’t see the rest of the world being comfortable with travel into and out of the US and UK being opened up any time soon. That’s annoying on a personal level: my parents and my sister live in Britain, and I have no idea when I’ll see them again.

  40. David O. says:

    Patrick,
    Thanks for the post — these are my thoughts exactly.

    I was born in 1966 so I’m in a “high risk” group. But I’m not afraid of COVID-19 because I’m old enough to know that there are worse things than death, and that quality of life *matters* and needs to be balanced against risk. Otherwise it would be illegal to drive a car.

    What terrifies me is not COVID-19. What terrifies me is that the changes we are making now to our lives will mandated by the government to be permanent.

    We can do anything as long as we know it will end. But this? Never seeing anyone’s face in public again. Never shaking hands again. Breathing through a mask 90% of the our waking life. Never getting closer than 6 feet to another person. Lining up single file to enter the Grocery story and being herded like cattle up and down one-way isles, with many empty shelves.

    And all of this for years upon years with no end because it’s the “new normal”? I hate that term also, but it pops up more and more in my newsfeed each day. And if I see one more “cute” MSM human interest story about how awesome it is to be locked away alone in your house I too will scream.

    I’ve never been more depressed about the future of the human race, but I see it as a weird glimmer of hope that at least one other person shares my dread.

  41. Eric says:

    “Overseeing these new measures will be the Transportation Health Administration (THA), to be formed early next year by President Biden.

    That last one is facetious. Right?”

    If you’re referring to President Biden, let’s hope so.