US carriers JetBlue Airways Corp and United Airlines Holdings Inc announced fresh safety measures on Wednesday aimed at restoring confidence in travel as several executives pointed to signs domestic demand is improving.
US states are starting to reopen and airlines expect an increase in domestic travel over the extended holiday weekend for Memorial Day on May 25.
While data shows only a small fraction of recent flights were more than 70% full, there may soon be full or near-full planes, said Airlines for America, a trade group representing major US airlines.
The group launched a public awareness campaign called "Fly Healthy. Fly Smart" to reassure travellers on the industry's safety measures after a number of social media photos depicted packed flights.
Major airlines have mandated face coverings for travellers and are taking a layered approach to safety.
JetBlue will continue blocking seats on its aircraft through at least July 6, check crew members' temperatures and step up aircraft cleaning with electrostatic aircraft fogging in June.
United will roll out Clorox Co's electrostatic sprayers and disinfecting wipes at its Chicago and Denver hub airports, followed by other locations. It will set up touchless kiosks and implement temperature checks for staff as well.
Delta Air Lines Inc will continue capping its passenger load at 60% beyond June, sources have told Reuters, and is undertaking other efforts to boost customer confidence as it adds flights back to its network.
Airlines have urged a standard set of safety rules across the industry, which is bleeding cash as the coronavirus crisis has decimated air travel demand.
Airlines are scouring customer research, visits to their websites and macroeconomic data to get a better picture of a rebound, JetBlue president and chief operating officer Joanna Geraghty told Reuters.
"We are starting to see some small green shoots," she said, citing declines in no-show rates and cancellations, and interest in fall and winter bookings.
Shares in US airlines rose in mid-day trading.
United's Scott Kirby, who took over as CEO on Wednesday, told shareholders he expects more improvements in demand but no full recovery without a vaccine.
"We won't get back to 100% until some time after people feel completely safe and Covid-19 will thankfully be in the rearview mirror," he said.
United carried about 35,000 passengers daily last week, a jump from some days in mid-April when it flew fewer than 10,000, Kirby said.