Surveys have indicated that more people are becoming skeptical about air travel since the pandemic struck.
Airlines, on the other hand, are pulling all the stops to convince a wary public that its health measures make sitting in a plane safer than other indoor settings as the transmission of the novel virus continues.
Mandatory face masks and hospital-grade air filters are some of the health and safety measures airlines have implemented, but the public remains largely unconvinced.
In the United States, airline bookings have stalled in the past month after slowly rising — a reaction to a new surge of reported virus infections.
Globally, air travel is down more than 85 percent from a year ago, according to industry figures.
The implications for the airline industry are grave.
Several leading carriers already have filed for bankruptcy protection, and if the hoped-for recovery is delayed much longer, the list will grow.
The four largest US airlines lost a combined $10 billion from April through June. Their CEOs say they will survive, but they have lowered their expectations for a rebound.
“We were all hoping that by the fall the virus might run its course,” said Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly. “Obviously, that has proven to be dead wrong.”
When Consumer Reports surveyed more than 1,000 people in June about their comfort with various activities during the pandemic, 70 percent said flying was very or somewhat unsafe.
They rated going to a hospital emergency room or standing in line to vote as safer.
In a survey commissioned by an airline trade group, the biggest concern of travelers was the possibility of sitting next to an infected person.
John Kontak, a schoolteacher from Phoenix, said that was his fear as soon as he stepped onto a crowded American Airlines flight this summer to visit his parents in Ohio.
“I don’t know anything about this person who is sitting a foot away from me,” Kontak said. “They took the bottom line or the dollar over the safety of passengers. Next time, I’d rather drive back to Ohio than fly — it’s safer because I can control it.”
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says sitting within 6 feet (2 meters) of other passengers, often for hours, may increase the risk of getting Covid-19.