Delta, Citing Planes With One Passenger, Asks to Cut Flights


(Bloomberg) -- For most of April, Delta Air Lines Inc. has flown just one passenger per day to and from Worcester, Massachusetts, and the company has asked the U.S. Transportation Department to allow it to suspend flights there and to eight other airports.

Separately, JetBlue Airways Corp. asked to let it halt flights to 16 airports, including major hubs in Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas, warning that continuing to fly to the locations will “significantly harm” the company’s liquidity.

The requests, filed with the Transportation Department and posted Tuesday, illustrate the dramatic decline in demand as travelers comply with stay-at-home instructions during the coronavirus pandemic. On Tuesday, 110,913 people went through U.S. airport security screening, just 5% of the 2.1 million on the equivalent day last year, according to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

The number of passengers has been hovering at about that level for the past two weeks. More than 90 million fewer people have gone through airport screening since March 16 compared to those who flew in the same period a year ago.

The Trump administration’s $50 billion in government loans and payroll grants to top carriers came with a requirement that they continue to provide minimum levels of service to locations they were flying to as of March 1, unless they receive approval from Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

In its filing, JetBlue said was seeking exemptions to that rule “so that it can continue to proactively respond to the near-zero demand for air travel caused by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting national economic crisis.” Other cities in its request include Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Philadelphia and Houston.

“We continue to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation for flexibility to adjust our schedules as demand warrants, while remaining in compliance with the Cares Act, which requires carriers to maintain a minimum level of service,” JetBlue said in a statement on Tuesday night.

It its request, Delta said its goal was to minimize the number of employees who could be potentially exposed to the virus by suspending service at nine airports within an hour’s drive of another terminal where the carrier was still flying.

Flint, Michigan, for example, is a roughly hour-long drive from Detroit Metro Airport, one of the carrier’s largest hubs. From April 1 through April 22, daily passengers each way at the airports in Delta’s request ranged from 14 to as few as one.

Airport officials in Lansing, Michigan, the state’s capital where Delta has also asked to suspend flights, urged the Transportation Department to block the request and require the carrier to continue serving that market.

Delta is the largest carrier at the city’s airport with a market share of nearly 50%, and losing it would be detrimental to the city and the mid-Michigan region, Capital Region Airport Authority Interim President Robert Benstein wrote in a Wednesday letter to the Transportation Department.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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