Jul 20, 2020 - Economy

Airlines' social distancing policies are starting to separate their stock prices

Reproduced from CivicScience; Chart: Axios Visuals
Reproduced from CivicScience; Chart: Axios Visuals

U.S. airline shares have largely traded in lockstep for most of this year, but diverging attitudes on layoffs, compensation and social distancing could create more stock price separation between the four largest airlines.

Driving the news: During its latest earnings call Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the airline will be extending its policy of leaving middle seats open through at least Sept. 30, touting a new campaign that Delta is "setting the standard for safer travel.''

  • "The space on board the plane, the blocked middle seats, has gone to the No. 1 reason why customers are choosing Delta,'' Bastian said on the earnings call.
  • Several airlines, including Southwest, JetBlue and Alaska, are limiting the number of passengers per flight, but not all are explicitly blocking off middle seats.

By the numbers: New data from CivicScience show 80% of all U.S. adults surveyed think airlines should not be booking flights to full capacity as American and United recently announced they will do.

  • In May, American's official policy was only that it would "try" not to book 50% of middle seats "when possible." Its stock surged in early June, but has sold off more than its peers since.
  • American and United now have the worst stock performance year to date among the big four, down 58.5% and 61.5%, respectively.
  • Southwest's stock is down 36.8% and Delta's is 50.8% lower.

Watch this space: CivicScience also found more than 60% of Americans don't plan to fly in the next six months.

What's next: American and United are poised to lay off 25,000 and 36,000 employees, respectively, after Sept. 30 when a deadline imposed by their pact with the government for accepting billions in taxpayer dollars expires.

  • Delta has said it may not impose layoffs after 20% of its workforce agreed to early retirement and is asking pilots to take a 15% pay cut.
  • There are no reports that Southwest, which has never laid off or furloughed an employee, has alerted any employees of possible layoffs yet.
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