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'Realistic and optimistic': Alaska Airlines looks to travel rebound in 2021

The president of Alaska Airlines said he expects bookings to start picking up in the spring, as more people get vaccinated.

SEATTLE — Airlines hope the latest round of COVID-19 relief, which President Donald Trump signed into law Sunday, will be enough to get them and their employees through a post-holiday slump in air travel.

“It's definitely been a rough year for our industry and for us,” said Ben Minicucci, president of Alaska Airlines.

The government’s coronavirus aid package includes $15 billion for airlines. In exchange, the carriers must recall workers who were furloughed because of the pandemic.

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Minicucci said Alaska Airlines has fewer than 50 people on furlough, which they plan to bring back to work because of the Payroll Support Program, part of the aid package meant to keep airline workers paid while many travelers stayed grounded in 2020.

As for next year?

“We have this outlook of being realistic and optimistic about the future,” Minicucci said. “We realize the next quarter, the next couple months, are going to be a little tough. We’re confident that things will get better in the second quarter and definitely in the second half of the year.”

Southwest Airlines announced on Monday that the new stimulus bill will help it avoid furloughs and pay cuts. Southwest was planning on furloughing more than 6,800 workers in the spring.

And there are fresh signs people are getting tired of staying put.

The TSA said it screened the highest number of passengers nationwide Sunday since the start of the pandemic, even as health officials urged people to stay home for the holidays.

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The Port of Seattle is still crunching the numbers, but projected Sunday would be a record day for SeaTac departures since the start of the pandemic.

They expected Monday and Tuesday to be busy as well but said traffic is still well below pre-pandemic levels.