Just when the airline industry thought it had caught its breath from the Delta-variant surge, a new coronavirus variant is threatening to upend the recovery. Or is it? The consensus is it’s far too early to say.

A little over a month ago, when airlines reported their third-quarter results, leaders were almost jubilant, convinced that the worst of the pandemic was behind them and that the fourth quarter, and 2022 would be when the recovery took hold. Of course, every airline CEO noted both in their quarterly calls and in regulatory filings, that the trajectory of the disease was unpredictable and even the best-laid plans could be thrown off by new developments or the emergence of new variants.

When the Omicron variant emerged last week in Southern Africa, governments around the world quickly swung into action, partially to fend off the type of criticism they got last year for not reacting quickly enough to the Delta variant. Some, like the U.S. and several European countries, banned travel from several countries in the region. Others, like Israel, banned all foreign travel, and South Korea has said the new variant could delay the country’s planned reopening.

The World Health Organization (WHO) named the Omicron variant a “variant of concern,” but it and public health agencies around the world stress that much remains unknown about Omicron. Initial studies suggest it could be more transmissible than other variants, but public health agencies caution that the variant’s lethality and ability to evade vaccines are yet to be determined.Read more