Why the Survival of the Airlines Depends on Frequent Flyer Programs

It turns out frequent flyer programs are worth more than the airlines themselves

Byrne Hobart
Marker
Published in
6 min readSep 29, 2020

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A fleet of Delta Airlines jets parked at the Southern California Logistics Airport (SCLA) due to decreased air travel.
A fleet of Delta Airlines jets parked at the Southern California Logistics Airport (SCLA) due to decreased air travel in Victorville, California. Photo: David McNew/Stringer/Getty Images

More than six months after the World Health Organization first declared Covid-19 a pandemic, airlines are barely limping along. The TSA’s daily passenger count tracker currently shows that air travel is down about a staggering 70% from last year. Demand for air travel is better than it was during the depths of the crisis in mid-April, when travel was down 95%, but it’s still far from a level that would keep airlines operating sustainably. Thanks to the federal government, airlines received a $25 billion bailout in April, which allowed them to keep employees on staff at current pay rates through the end of September. And major airline CEOs have been in talks with the White House and policymakers to discuss passing another coronavirus relief package that would extend payroll assistance and avert job cuts.

September 30 seemed impossibly distant back in April, but now that bailout money is quickly running out, and airline executives have a critical decision to make, with some 35,000 jobs hanging in the balance: Do they take an additional round of financial aid from the government, giving up more equity but keeping their labor-heavy, high-scale cost structure in place for…

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Byrne Hobart
Marker
Writer for

I write about technology (more logos than techne) and economics. Newsletter: https://diff.substack.com/