Southwest CEO Says Coronavirus-Driven Fear of Flying Has a ‘9/11-Like Feel’

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The fear of flying caused by the coronavirus outbreak is reminiscent of 9/11, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC on Thursday.

“9/11 wasn’t an economically driven issue for travel. It was more fear, quite frankly, and I think that that’s really what’s manifested this time,” Kelly said on “The Exchange.”

He said the lack of travel demand as the coronavirus spreads across the U.S. is also similar to past economic recessions.

Kelly noted the travel restrictions put in place by many companies and said it’s tough to determine how much of the lost bookings were going to be business or personal flights.

“So I think there are elements of both, but it has a 9/11-like feel. Hopefully we’ll get this behind us very quickly,” he said.

Southwest began to experience “very sharp declines” in bookings last week, in the range of “several hundred million dollars we think,” he said. “We’re guessing. It’s still early March.”

“It was a very noticeable, precipitous decline. It’s continued on a daily basis,” Kelly said.

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