Airline election jitters

The USA is about to make a big decision. Voters will choose largely between the continuation of the economic policies of president Barack Obama or those of challenger former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in a neck-and-neck race on 6 November.

US airlines, for their part, are expressing concerns. Executives at Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and US Airways – three of the country’s largest carriers – mentioned uncertainty and a dip in bookings around the elections in their respective third quarter earnings calls this month.

“We’re seeing positive trends in November [bookings] despite difficult comparisons and slow demand during the election week,” says Ed Bastian, president of Delta.

“Corporate and business travel still feels like they’re waiting on some certainty on the election and resolution of the fiscal cliff,” says Scott Kirby, president of US Airways. He adds that the carrier anticipates a positive demand environment in the days following the election.

Southwest chief executive and president Gary Kelly probably puts the concern best: “We all know the political uncertainty. We all know the fiscal issues that the country faces and the debt, and the elections are upon us. And I don’t think any of us can predict exactly where the economy is going to go from here.”

“I think all the economic signals, as we see them, are very mixed,” he concludes.

One thing no executive mentions is the possibility, however remote, of an electoral college tie. The resulting economic uncertainties could be just enough turn what is beginning to look like a positive fourth quarter into a negative one.

Here’s to an uncertain next 11 days.

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