More than a dozen flights take off with fewer than 10 people on board
‘There are no passengers’: Major US airline admits more than a dozen flights took off today with fewer than 10 people on board as coronavirus undercuts travel
- Airports have seen near-empty planes and some air traffic control towers empty
- Flight schedules have been reduced but airlines are consolidating some of the remaining flights because passengers aren’t showing up
- One anonymous major U.S. airline ticked off more than a dozen flights that departed on Tuesday morning with fewer than 10 passengers on board
- In a few cases, the passengers were outnumbered by pilots and flight attendants
- President Trump said Monday he was not considering new travel restrictions
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
US airlines are teetering on the brink of collapse due to the coronavirus pandemic that left flights almost empty.
Even with sharply reduced schedules, airlines are consolidating some of the remaining flights because passengers aren’t showing up.
An official of one major U.S. airline, who asked that they and their airline not be identified, ticked off more than a dozen flights that departed on Tuesday morning with fewer than 10 passengers on board. In a few cases, the passengers were outnumbered by pilots and flight attendants.
‘There are no passengers,’ said the official, noting that the average flight was just over 20% full and that figure is expected to drop into the teens by the weekend.
Airline service in the United States is teetering on the brink of collapse. A passenger removes her goggles and face mask used to fend off coronavirus at the request of a TSA agent as she goes through a security checkpoint, Tuesday
American Airlines passenger planes crowd a runway where they are parked due to flight reductions made to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Tulsa International Airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Monday
Above is the latest number of coronavirus cases in the US and confirmed deaths as of Tuesday
On Monday, the Transportation Security Administration said it screened 331,000 people at airport checkpoints. That was an 86% drop from the corresponding Monday a year ago, when officers screened more than 2.4 million people.
Major airlines are drafting plans in case they must shut down domestic flights because of a lack of air traffic controllers or airport screeners.
‘We have plans in place in case that happens,’ the airline official said. ‘It’s a dire situation.’
An official at another major carrier called it ‘prudent contingency planning’ given that health experts advise against gathering of more than 10 people.
‘We do not have plans to voluntarily ground, (but) we’re wary of government actions … that could force us to ground the airline,’ such as the Federal Aviation Administration closing control towers or airspace or governors ordering that airports be shut down, said the person, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss planning that has not been made public.
The Wall Street Journal reported that government agencies were considering ordering a shutdown of virtually all passenger flights within the U.S. The newspaper said President Donald Trump and his advisers are reluctant to order a shutdown partly because passenger planes also carry U.S. mail and vital cargo.
American Airlines passenger planes crowd a runway where they are parked due to flight reductions to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Tulsa International Airport in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Monday
Passengers wear protective gear to fend off coronavirus as they wait to go through a TSA security checkpoint, Tuesday at JFK airport in New York
Even with sharply reduced schedules, airlines are consolidating some of the remaining flights because passengers aren’t showing up. The TSA said 24 screeners and six other employees at 14 U.S. airports have tested positive for the new coronavirus in the past two weeks
The FAA, which provides air traffic control across the country, declined to comment on whether the agency was considering ordering a shutdown. ‘We don´t comment on speculation,’ said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor. ‘The FAA is focused on the health and safety of its workforce while continuing to provide a safe air transportation system.’
Airport towers at Chicago’s Midway International Airport and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas remained closed Tuesday, nearly a week after shutting down because some employees tested positive for the new coronavirus. FAA workers at eight other facilities have also tested positive.
Administration officials have repeatedly declined to rule out the possibility of halting domestic airline travel while saying no such shutdown was imminent. President Donald Trump said Monday he was not considering new travel restrictions.
‘They thought we were going to have bans within the United States. We didn’t do that,’ he said at a White House briefing. ‘We are not going to have that. Hopefully that will take care of itself.’
The airlines and their labor unions are lobbying Washington for relief. A proposal by Senate Republicans would provide $50 billion in loan help and another $8 billion for cargo carriers, but the airlines say they need cash grants to avoid layoffs in an industry that employs about 750,000 people.
House Democrats propose $40 billion in grants to airlines and contractors to preserve pay and benefits for workers. Democrats would add provisions including telling airlines to cut carbon emissions in half by 2050 and to include labor union representatives on their boards. Prominent House Republicans immediately trashed the proposal.
U.S. airlines have already cut most of their international flights and have announced plans to reduce service within the U.S. by up to 40% in April. Those drastic planned cutbacks in service now seem hopelessly optimistic, given the few people who continue to fly.
More than 8,300 U.S. flights were canceled Tuesday, according to tracking service FlightAware. In some cases, airlines consolidated flights to avoid flying empty planes.
United Airlines canceled 51% of its flights, American dropped 46% of its schedule and Delta scrapped 39%, according to FlightAware. Southwest canceled 15%.
Some air traffic control towers were closed Tuesday. File image shows air traffic controllers talk with pilots inside the control tower at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California June 2016
On Tuesday, United Airlines canceled 51% of its flights, American dropped 46% of its schedule and Delta scrapped 39%, according to FlightAware. Southwest canceled 15%. Pictured, idled Delta Air Lines planes sit parked on the now unused fifth runway of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia on March 22
As recently as March 8, TSA screened more than 2 million travelers, but the numbers have steadily declined ever since.
The TSA said 24 screeners and six other employees at 14 U.S. airports have tested positive for the new coronavirus in the past two weeks. The most recent confirmed cases were at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Indianapolis International Airport and McCarran in Las Vegas.
The new virus and a global recession will do more financial damage to airlines than previously estimated, according to an industry trade group.
The International Air Transport Association said Tuesday that it now estimates that passenger revenue worldwide could fall as much as $252 billion, or 44%, compared with last year because of the decline in travel. That is based on strict travel restrictions lasting up to three months, followed by a slow economic recovery.
Less than three weeks ago, the group estimated the virus could reduce airline revenue by up to $113 billion compared with 2019, before a new round of travel restrictions that have stopped most international air travel.
Delta Air Lines is the world’s biggest and most profitable airline. On Tuesday, Standard & Poor’s cut Delta’s credit rating from investment grade to speculative, or junk, status.
CORONAVIRUS TRAVEL TIPS
As the novel coronavirus spreads across the globe, health experts advise plane travelers to sit in a window seat, disinfect their table trays and window blinds, and warn that wearing a mask won’t prevent infection.
Officials say the best way to avoid catching the virus, which is spread through viral particles within mucus or saliva, is to keep your hands clean, disinfect your space, and avoid touching your face.
It is also advised that plane travelers choose a window seat to have less contact with potentially sick people.
‘Book a window seat, try not to move during the flight, stay hydrated and keep your hands away from your face,’ Vicki Stover Hertzberg, professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, said.
‘Book a window seat, try not to move during the flight, stay hydrated and keep your hands away from your face,’ a professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, said
Hertzberg helped conduct a study that followed passengers and crew members on 10 three to five-hour flights during the flu season and found that passengers who sit in the window seats had less contact with ill people.
Wearing a mask on the plane may not prove helpful as the air in the aircraft is considered sterile because there are so few microorganisms at such a high altitude and the plane draws fresh air from the outside.
About 50 percent of the air in cabins is recirculated but it goes through sophisticated air filters similar to those used in surgical environments, before it’s its pushed back into the plane.
A problem with paper masks is that they don’t have a respirator to filter out infectious air articles.
That means passengers are more likely to catch the virus through direct contact from someone with the virus or surfaces rather than through the air.
But one study found that the other coronaviruses – such as SARS and MERS – remains on metal, glass, and plastic surfaces for up to nine days.
Top tips include:
– Good hand hygiene: Frequently wash hands for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitzer
– Disinfect your space: Bring your own wipes and wipe down window blinds, seat belts, arm rests, touch screens and tray tables
– Choose a window seat: Sit near the window and avoid moving around the cabin to limit exposure to potentially sick people
– Use touch screen with a tissue: Avoid contact with surfaces that may hold the virus
– Avoid touching your face: 2019-nCov is spread through viral particles in mucus or saliva. Avoid touching your face and transferring germs picked up from surfaces
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