June 3, 2020 / 1:14 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Airlines cut fares to help boost May traffic -IATA

(Adds comment, details, background)

PARIS, June 3 (Reuters) - Airlines cut domestic fares by an average 23% last month as traffic picked up from April lows, global airline body IATA said on Wednesday - warning that post-coronavirus discounting posed a further threat to profitability.

Domestic passenger traffic rose 30% globally in May from a very low base in April, when much of the industry was brought to a near-standstill by the COVID-19 pandemic, IATA said in an online presentation.

But the uptick came at the price of fare cuts that airlines can ill afford on top of extra health measures and other new coronavirus-related costs.

"Airlines need cash because of the crisis and they're seeking to encourage passengers into seats by offering low fares," IATA Chief Economist Brian Pearce said.

"The challenge (is) that unit costs will have been increased by a number of restrictions that have been put in place," Pearce said, predicting "quite a difficult time for airlines" as flights gradually resume.

In Europe, low-cost airlines including Wizz Air and Ryanair have said they expect to win business from full-service rivals in a discount-driven recovery.

Asian markets among the earliest hit are now improving steadily, IATA said - with Chinese, South Korean and Vietnamese domestic traffic back within 25% of year-earlier levels.

And in a sign that the recovery is taking hold elsewhere, Google searches for air travel have outstripped "COVID-19" queries since mid-May.

But bookings for the northern hemisphere summer that typically ramp up from March onwards showed only the beginnings of an improvement in May, the organisation said. (Reporting by Laurence Frost; editing by Jason Neely, Kirsten Donovan)

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