Airlines are in a tricky position when it comes to the messaging around the safety of flying. Southwest Airlines’ CEO seems to think it’s totally safe to fly again, going so far as to say that planes are as safe of an environment as anywhere.
Southwest Airlines CEO says it’s safe to fly
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly appeared on “Face the Nation” yesterday, and the interview started off with a rather tough question — “is it safe to fly again?”
Kelly’s answer was an unequivocal yes, and he provided the following reasoning:
- His answer to the question was “it is,” without any hesitation
- Southwest Airlines is doing everything they can to encourage people to come back and fly
- Southwest is doing everything they can to clean planes, they’re requiring employees and customers to wear masks, they’re deep cleaning planes every night, they’re using electrostatic misters, they’re exercising social distancing, and they’re not booking planes full
- When asked how much risk there is to flying, he said “I don’t think the risk on an airplane is any greater risk than anywhere else, it’s as safe of an environment as you’re going to find.”
That last statement is quite something.
If you want to watch the full interview, you can do so here:
How Southwest Airlines sees demand recovering
When asked about how demand will recover, Kelly stated:
- He thinks the airline saw the bottom in April, and that each week after the first week of April has gotten successively better
- May will be better than April, and while June won’t be a good month, it will hopefully be better than May
- Southwest is seeing a good number of future bookings into next year
What message should airlines be sending now?
Airlines are in a tricky situation here in terms of the expectations they should create when it comes to flying. It goes without saying that airlines succeeding relies on people feeling comfortable flying.
Perceptions around flying seem particularly complicated right now:
- Many of us have been social distancing for about two months
- There are still lots of new COVID-19 cases in the US
- At the same time, in some areas we’re starting to see businesses reopen in a phased manner, though it’s far from a return to normal across the board
There’s no denying that airlines are moving in the right direction when it comes to creating the perception that it’s safe to fly, by adding some social distancing guidelines, requiring passengers to wear masks, etc.
However, is it really fair to say that an airplane is as safe of an environment as anywhere? If by “anywhere” you mean a full subway or maybe even a full restaurant, I could see that. But for most of us the alternative environment is the inside of our homes.
Beyond that, the statement hardly takes into account the risk associated with the overall travel process, from getting to & from the airport, being in the airport, etc.
To be clear, I don’t disagree with Kelly’s general sentiment here (though maybe it’s a stretch to say an airplane is as safe as anywhere) — I do think airlines are moving in the right direction, and it might be safe(ish) if precautions are taken, as part of a gradual reopening of the economy.
But I think it’s also important to call out that there’s no such thing as social distancing on a plane, and that’s a misconception that many people have.
Southwest Airlines’ CEO says it’s safe to fly again, and also says that a plane is as safe of an environment as any. The steps that airlines are taking to protect customers are a move in the right direction, but personally I’m not ready to get on a plane just yet… but hopefully soon(ish)?
What do you make of Kelly’s comments?