Delta Air Lines foresees ‘a challenging winter ahead' even with expected COVID-19 vaccine

(Rick Egan | Tribune file phto) Delta Flight 2020 was the first flight out of the new Salt Lake City International Airport on Sept. 15, 2020. Even with prospects for approval of a COVID-19 vaccine soon, the airline forsees 'a challenging winter ahead.'

Delta Air Lines — which operates about 70% of the flights at Salt Lake City International Airport — is cheering news that the first COVID-19 vaccine is nearing approval. But it is warning workers that widespread distribution is still far away, so the company still faces ‘a challenging winter ahead.’

“Still, it’s a welcome glimmer of light in the darkness,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian wrote in a memo to employees on Thursday about news that Pfizer reported better-than-expected results in late-stage trials of its vaccine and is seeking expedited approval.

“It’s unlikely that our industry will begin a significant recovery without an effective vaccine, so we’re watching these developments closely,” Bastian wrote.

“Keep in mind that while developing a vaccine is an important step, widespread distribution will take many months, so we continue to expect 2021 will be a year with continued challenges.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian during a Jan. 18, 2019 interview about the importance of its Salt Lake City hub.

With the United States hitting a grim milestone of 10 million positive cases plus new spikes in Europe and elsewhere, Bastian said “all signs point to a challenging winter ahead.”

He added it is more important than ever for his airline and its employees to be vigilant in efforts to stop the spread.

“We’ve now added a total of nearly 550 people to our no-fly list for refusing to comply with Delta’s mask requirement on board,” he wrote. “Fortunately, that number represents a tiny fraction of our overall customers, the vast majority of whom follow our guidelines and appreciate the steps we are taking to keep them safe and healthy.”

He asked employees to check for symptoms before coming to work “and remember mask-wearing continues to be essential and required.”

Delta has about 4,000 employees in Utah, and Salt Lake City International Airport is its fourth largest hub behind Atlanta, Detroit and Minneapolis.

Also on Thursday, federal officials launched a new website, Fly Healthy, with guidelines to help airline passengers stay safe during the upcoming holiday season. It walks through recommendations at every step of travel: during planning; at the airport; aboard the aircraft; during arrival at their destination; and returning home.

It warns that flying may be quite different now from the last time most people traveled. It advises, for example, that masks should be worn from the moment travelers arrive at the airport, throughout their flight and throughout their time at the arrival airport. It suggests packing extra masks in carry-on bags.

Also, it warns travelers to check restrictions or quarantine requirements at their destination, and notes some places require travelers to have a negative test for COVID-19 shortly before their flight.

Also on Thursday, the AAA travel services company projected based on surveys that air travel by Intermountain area residents will be down by 46% for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday compared to last year. It projects that travel by car will be up slightly, just under 1%. Overall, it said Thanksgiving travel is expected to be down by 6.9% in the region.

“The wait-and-see approach travel trend continues to impact travel decisions,” said Aldo Vazquez, AAA Utah spokesperson. “The decision to travel is a personal one. For those who are considering making a trip, the majority will go by car, which provides the flexibility to modify holiday travel plans up until the day of departure.”

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