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Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the airline industry found ways to help passengers feel safe enough to take to the skies again. During SARS and other epidemics, the infection rate was limited enough that the airline industry pulled through. But the COVID-19 pandemic is a new sort of crisis: a world-wide shut down, during which staying in place is not only seen as an act of self-preservation, but also as a collective moral victory. How can airlines thrive in a post-pandemic world? In this special report, the Boston Consulting Group takes stock of various recovery scenarios, and outlines the opportunities currently available to airlines.


COVID-19’s effects on the airline industry are unprecedented. 

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the airline industry was never quite the same. So far, the fallout from COVID-19 has been even more extreme. Airlines have grounded the majority of planes in their fleets and are using passenger planes to carry freight.

In mid-March 2020, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicted pandemic-related revenue losses of $252 billion – 44% of 2019’s total revenue. No one knows how long the COVID-19 crisis will last, or how and when different regions will reopen. 

Recovery will depend on the crisis’ duration, government intervention and airline actions.

Demand is the key economic driver for most industries; the airline industry is no exception. The SARS epidemic and 9/11 give some indication of how long it takes airlines to recover after a crisis, but experts predict that COVID-19 will have a larger and longer effect on the industry than...

About the Authors

Dirk-Maarten Molenaar and Fernando Bosch are Managing Directors & Partners in the Boston Consulting Group’s Amsterdam office. Jason Guggenheim is a Senior Partner and a Travel & Tourism Global Leader, Pranay Jhunjhunwala and Ben Wade are Managing Directors & Partners in London, and Hean-Ho Loh holds the same position in Singapore.

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