Airline passenger volume drops 60% in 2020 and more business news

Airline traffic drops 60 percent in 2020

The number of passengers flying on U.S. airlines fell 60 percent in 2020 as most travelers stayed home during the COVID-19 pandemic, new federal data show.

The passenger counts were at their lowest level since the mid-1980s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The number of flights also dropped as airlines recorded the fewest since federal reporting began in 1987.

The nation’s airlines carried a total 369 million passengers last year, down from 927 million passengers in 2019.

Domestic passenger counts were down 59 percent, while international passenger counts were down 70 percent. International traffic typically makes up about 12 percent of passengers on U.S. airlines. However, the new government data does not include passengers on foreign carriers.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines — which, compared to some smaller carriers, has a greater share of the international and business travel — saw its passenger traffic decline by nearly 70 percent.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where Delta has its largest hub, had a more than 60 percent decline in passenger counts in 2020. The Chattanooga Airport Authority reported a 59.3 percent drop in passenger enplanements in 2020 compared with the previous year.


States don’t expect delay in new unemployment benefits

Three times in the past year, a sharply divided Congress has approved federal unemployment benefits for those thrown out of work by the pandemic. And, twice, the actions have resulted in interrupted payments to jobless recipients in many states, including Tennessee and Georgia.

But the latest 25-week extension — part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law Thursday by President Biden — will not disrupt the flow of benefit money, state officials said.

“We do not believe there are new requirements, the way there were last time,” said Kersha Cartwright, spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor. “We do not anticipate a gap in payments.”

This time, only minor software adjustments are needed, department officials said.

In Tennessee, assistant labor commissioner Chris Cannon said the state is still waiting on details of the extended jobless benefits to see what changes may be made in the program.

“If there are, we will need time to make those changes within our computer system and we will work as quickly as possible to make that happen,” he said Friday. “Our goal is to make the transition as seamless as it can be.”

While waiting on official federal guidelines, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Develoment is working with its coputer vendor to prepare the unemployment computer system to minimize implementation time.

Last week, Tennessee paid jobless benefits to 119,221 unemployed persons.


FAA fines passenger for not wearing mask

An airline passenger could wind up paying $14,500 for refusing to wear a face mask and drinking alcohol that he had brought on board.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it proposed the civil penalty against a passenger on a Dec. 23 JetBlue Airways flight that left New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport bound for the Dominican Republic, but turned back to JFK because of the man’s behavior.

The FAA said the man crowded a passenger in the next seat, spoke loudly and ignored a flight attendant’s request to wear his mask. He also refused to stop drinking alcohol that he brought on board, which is prohibited by federal regulation, the agency said.

Flight attendants complained twice to the pilots. The captain declared an emergency and returned to JFK, where police were waiting and escorted the man off the plane, according to the FAA.


AT&T expects to double HBO Max subscriptions

AT&T is looking past the pandemic as it updated investors Friday, announcing that it expects to more than double its HBO Max subscriptions to 150 million worldwide over the next four years.

The company has already surpassed its growth goals for the U.S. in the past year, CEO John Stankey told investors at an annual presentation Friday — one that was still held virtually due to the ongoing pandemic.

AT&T launched the streaming service in late May 2020 and expanded the HBO Max and HBO subscriber base to 61 million by the end of the year.

The company promoted its Warner Bros. movie premieres, which have been made available on HBO Max at the same time as they appear in movie theaters, causing some controversy with film directors over the last year of the pandemic.

The digital movie premieres have been a “shot of adrenaline” for HBO Max subscriptions, according to Stankey.

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