What happened

Brazilians returned to the skies in September, and that has the stocks of the country's airlines soaring higher on Tuesday. Shares of Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes (NYSE:GOL) were up 10% as of 1 p.m. EST today, while shares of Azul (NYSE:AZUL) were up 7.6%.

So what

Airlines worldwide have seen demand plummet due to the pandemic, but South American carriers have been hit particularly hard. Azul and Gol have both been able to avoid bankruptcy filings so far, and their latest monthly reports on travel demand would suggest that perhaps the worst is over.

A plane taking off from a runway.

Image source: Getty Images.

Gol said its planes were 80% full in September, with a key revenue metric up 36% from August. Azul saw passenger traffic increase 23.5% from August, also with 80% of seats filled. Gol did not fly any international flights during the month, while Azul operated a small international schedule and filled about 75% of its seats on those flights.

"Once again we continue to see an improvement in domestic passenger demand as we approach the strongest travel season in Brazil," Azul CEO John Rodgerson said in a statement. "September capacity was 42% of the same period last year, and in October we expect to reach approximately 55% of pre-COVID capacity."

Now what

It's getting more likely by the day that Azul and Gol will survive the COVID crisis, and that means the stocks are safe to own. Investors should be warned, though, that a recovery will take years, and Latin American airlines might take longer than others around the globe due to the importance of international travel in the region.

Shares of Gol and Azul are down 62% and 67% for the year, respectively. There's a case to be made to buy in now and wait out the crisis. But given how long a bounce back is likely to take, and the history of turbulence among Latin American airlines, I'd still prefer to watch this recovery from the sidelines.