Airlines face a years-long challenge to rebuild global route maps and networks that were devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic (AAL, DAL, UAL)

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Since the 2008 financial crisis, airlines have built sprawling global networks, leveraging international hubs and partner airlines to connect the world.
Those networks have been left decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.
As air travel demand returns over the next few years, routes and networks will look very different than what we’ve gotten used to.
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During the decade and change since the 2008 financial crisis, US airlines took advantage of a strong economy and soaring travel demand to build and reinforce massive global networks and route maps.

By 2019, it was possible to get just about anywhere in the world with just one stop, at most two, depending on where you lived. A wide range of direct flights between midsize markets and international hubs made this even easier, with myriad partnerships between US carriers and global airlines opening the world, both through alliances, and one-off partnerships and code shares.

Over the course of a short few weeks in 2020, that interconnected network collapsed.

As America’s airlines see travel demand beginning to ramp back up, they’re cautiously pulling grounded aircraft back into service, and restoring capacity on their domestic networks.

Their international networks, however, are another story.

American Airlines, for instance, plans to fly 55% of its domestic capacity in July, compared to 2019. But the airline will only fly 20% international flights, and many of those are expected to fly fairly empty — good for social distancing, but bad for the airline.

Airlines won’t be able to truly build back their international networks until demand returns, and demand won’t come back in full force until various travel restrictions, border closures, and quarantine requirements are lifted. That isn’t likely happen until the pandemic is brought more under control — something much of the world, including the US, is still struggling to accomplish.

As international travel does return over the next few years, networks and route options will look very different compared to the 2010s.

Massive cuts and dismantling during the pandemic will mean a massive rebuilding effort

With airlines cutting anywhere from 50% to 90% of their capacity through the worst of the pandemic, grounding planes and suspending routes, bringing their sprawling, complex networks back online will be a challenge.

“Humpty Dumpty not only fell off the wall, but was smashed into very tiny pieces,” said Henry Harteveldt, cofounder of the Atmosphere Research Group, a travel industry research and analysis firm. “So it’s going to take a long time to reassemble the airline network.”

In recent years, airlines began looking toward new markets and routes, seeking untested opportunities for profits and market share. United, for example, launched a nonstop flight between Newark, New Jersey and Cape Town, South Africa, betting on a strong leisure market.

As debt-laden, struggling carriers limp back from the pandemic, that kind of experimentation and expansion will likely remain on the back burner. Some routes may use smaller aircraft than before as demand builds back up, and unless there’s

Source:: Business Insider

      

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