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Photo: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Several major U.S. airlines indicated Thursday that their businesses have taken a hit from a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant.

Why it matters: A recent decline in bookings and an increase in cancellations have triggered a much lower revenue forecast for airlines than previously anticipated. The trend, which was earlier reported by AP, threatens to stifle the industry's rapid recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which halted air travel in its early days.

  • American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue all said in filings that their businesses were hurt by the Delta variant.
  • The companies have indicated that the decline is more pronounced in business and international travel, both of which are critical to airline revenue.

The big picture: American indicated in a filing Thursday that it had experienced a slow-down in ticket sales in August that has continued into September.

  • The airline also said it expects third-quarter revenue in 2021 to be down approximately 24% to 28% compared to the third quarter in 2019.
  • In another filing, Delta noted that total revenue is expected to be at "the lower end of the prior guidance," blaming the virus with lowering demand.

What they're saying: "The variant is forcing us all to realize this is a serious disease ... that we have to deal with," Delta CEO Ed Bastian said Thursday at a conference hosted by investment bank Cowen.

  • "[Companies are] just not traveling in the volumes necessary yet to get our business back to where we need it to be as they're waiting for the variant to subside," he added.

What's next: The airlines, however, indicated they were optimistic that the downturn wouldn't last long.

  • Bastian said he expects the Delta variant to delay the recovery by about 90 days.
  • JetBlue noted that it believes demand for holiday travel will "hold up relatively well."

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
Sep 20, 2021 - Economy & Business

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky to herald "travel revolution"

Expand chart
Data: TSA. Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky will argue this week that the world is undergoing a "travel revolution," in which some parts of the industry stay shrunk but the sector ultimately comes back "bigger than ever."

Why it matters: Chesky, who faced the abyss when the world shut down last year, foresees a significant shift in how people move around, with more intentional gatherings of family, friends and colleagues — even if routine business travel is never what it once was.

FBI director: Domestic terrorism cases have surged since 2020

Christopher Wray testifies before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Sept. 21. Photo: Greg Nash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before a Senate committee Tuesday that the agency's domestic terrorism caseload has "exploded" in size since spring of 2020.

Why it matters: The Jan. 6 Capitol riot refocused attention on the issue of domestic terrorism and security, but Wray's testimony points to a trend that pre-dates the insurrection.

28 mins ago - World

UN: Taliban nominates new envoy, asks to speak at General Assembly meeting

Afghanistan's current UN ambassador Ghulam M. Isaczai. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

The United Nations said Tuesday that the Taliban has asked to speak at the United Nations General Assembly's meeting this week, AP reports.

Why it matters: The move marks a direct challenge to Afghanistan's currently accredited UN ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, whom the Taliban says no longer represents Afghanistan.