Airlines are still losing money but you wouldn't know it by looking at their stock prices this year.
Airline investors have reasons to be optimistic.
Travel demand, at least from U.S. vacationers, is bouncing back after a difficult start to the year when Covid-19 cases peaked. Airline CEOs are upbeat about spring and summer bookings, too as millions receive coronavirus vaccines, quarantine orders are lifted and tourist attractions reopen.
Add to that, in the latest Covid-19 stimulus package Congress set aside a third round of payroll support: $14 billion—in the form of mostly grants that don't have to be paid back—to cover costs of their labor force, which airlines already reduced during the pandemic through buyouts and other incentives.
That brings the total payroll support Congress approved for the sector to $54 billion in exchange for not involuntarily furloughing workers or cutting pay rates.
But airlines have plenty of challenges ahead, even though coronavirus cases have dropped. Revenue is depressed, and international and business travel are still hampered.
Airline executives this month will provide more detailed outlooks about how they're preparing for the spring and summer travel season and what it will take to return to profitability. Delta kicks off reporting on Thursday before the market opens.
Here's what investors should watch.