Major U.S. airlines are considering a “potential voluntary shutdown” even if the United States government does not order a full ground stop or domestic travel shutdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Domestic air travel companies are already struggling with bookings. Southwest Airlines announced Monday that they would be scaling back operations dramatically, reducing their daily flight schedule by 1,500 flights amid a steep downturn in reservations.
“The pandemic and the government response have sunk passenger levels and future bookings to unimaginable lows across the industry,” Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told his employees in a video message explaining the drawdown.
Government agencies have considered a full ground stop for domestic travel to prevent coronavirus spreading from “hot zones” like New York City and Los Angeles, California, to more isolated locations that may be less prepared for a sudden uptick in infections, but so far, the Trump Administration has been hestitant to make proclamations that could devastate American industries, preferring to focus on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “social distancing” guidelines, in the hopes that business can return to normal after just a few weeks of quarantine.
U.S. airlines, though, are considering instituting their own ground stop, Fox News reports, to cut costs in a very difficult enviroment.
“U.S. airlines have already eliminated the vast majority of international flying and have announced plans to cut back domestic flying by as much as 40%. Travelers are staying home at even greater rates,” Fox reported Tuesday. “The Transportation Security Administration reported that passenger flow at its checkpoints was down more than 80% Sunday from the same day a year earlier.”
With new lockdown orders appearing every day, “airline executives, pilot-union leaders and federal transportation officials said they increasingly view as inevitable further sharp reductions from already-decimated schedules in passenger flights.”
The industry is partnering withe the Trump Administration to explore options. “No final decisions have been made by the carriers or the White House,” officials told the Wall Street Journal, which broke news of the possible shutdown on Tuesday. “As airlines struggle to keep aircraft flying with minimal passengers, various options are under consideration, these people said.”
One main concern that remains: many passenger airlines also carry cargo and with fewer planes flying, less cargo is heading from state to state. The WSJ added that, “President Trump is reportedly reluctant to force a ban on commercial flights nationwide, partly because passenger jets also carry a large chunk of U.S. mail and essential cargo shipments.” With planes empty of passengers, though, airlines are concerned they’re wasting precious resources hauling packages, items, and mail.
The airline industry is already petitioning Congress for a bailout and, despite significant disagreements on which industries should receive coronavirus relief funds, both parties seem to agree that the travel industry will receive millions of dollars in aid. At the very least, Congress will hand the airline industry $50 billion “in collateralized loans backstopped by the Federal Reserve for airlines,” per The Hill. Another $30 billion in “grants to offset steep declines in air travel” is also reportedly on the table.