• Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said the airline expects to fly 600,000 passengers over the July 4th weekend, an improvement over recent lows, but far below the 3.2 million customers the airline flew the same weekend last year.
  • The number starkly illustrates how far airlines have to go before they can fully recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemi c.
  • The airline also urged employees to take "once-in-a-career" buyout and early retirement opportunities ahead of expected layoffs.
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Delta Air Lines said on Thursday that it expects to fly about 600,000 passengers over the July 4th weekend a strong amount compared to the demand throughout the rest of the pandemic, which has seen every airline in the US combined fly 600,000 passengers per day just a few times.

However, the upward trend in passenger numbers belies the stark reality of the airline industry's recovery; during the same period last year, Delta flew 3.2 million passengers, CEO Ed Bastian said in a memo to employees.

Daily passenger counts in the US have grown steadily since mid-April, when the total hit a low of just over 87,000.

However, that growth has been slow, and typically consists of passengers traveling for leisure, rather than more profitable business travelers.

"Business travelers, who provide the bulk of our revenue, have not yet returned in significant numbers," Bastian wrote.

Airlines in the US and globally have been decimated by the collapse of travel demand, particularly of business travel. Even as some corporate travel bans are lifted and certain unavoidable business travel resumes, such as that within the manufacturing sector, demand is expected to take 3-5 years to fully recover across the industry.

US airlines are consequently seeking to cut staffing. While they are prohibited from laying off or furloughing workers through September 30, under the terms of the CARES Act, the notices have already started to go out to employees who will be impacted.

American, for instance, issued its first furlough notices to management and support workers this week , while warning that it was overstaffed by about 7,000 to 8,000 flight attendants, and about 20,000 employees overall.

In an effort to avoid or minimize layoffs, the major airlines have offered various voluntary separation options to workers, including buyouts and early retirements. These packages typically offer departing employees some form of continued pay, as well as helath and travel benefits.

In Thursday's memo, Bastian urged workers to consider taking the "a once-in-a-career opportunity to depart Delta with generous cash severance and retiree medical and flight benefits." The airline said it would accept applications through July 13.

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