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The chief executive of one of the largest U.S. airlines doesn’t expect the airline industry to return to normal for several years.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly is encouraged by news of highly effective vaccines in development by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna. But just as vaccines take time to develop and distribute, the kinds of events that spur people to book a passenger flight need months — if not years — to plan.

Event planners won’t move forward until they see actual proof people are willing to take one of the new virus treatments.

“I don’t think things will be back to normal at all by the end of next year,” Kelly said Thursday at Skift Aviation Forum. “You won’t have many of those [major events] in 2021 because nobody really knows if they can count on [the vaccine]. It is just going to take a while.”

Airlines need to expect a choppy 2021 and 2022 due to so much uncertainty surrounding the distribution of the vaccine and its impact on business travel. Business travel took five years to rebound from prior recessions, Kelly said. This time could take even longer.

“We’ve got to plan for the worst and, obviously, hope for the best,” Kelly said.

Photo Credit: Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly expects further financial turbulence heading into 2021. Skift