Major U.S. airlines are internally pondering a voluntary shutdown of all passenger flights across the United States as government agencies also consider instituting such an order amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and what is rapidly becoming a nationwide lockdown.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the major U.S. airlines, including American Airlines (AAL) - Get Report, Delta Air Lines (DAL) - Get Report and United Airlines (UAL) - Get Report, are all drafting internal plans for the possibility - not only as a way to save money but also as a way to help stop the virus’s spread.
Airlines are also considering the possibility that contagion at air-traffic control facilities could force the issue, making it impossible to continue operating in parts of the country.
No final decisions have been made by the carriers or the White House, industry and federal officials told the Journal. Other publicly traded carriers include Alaska Air (ALK) - Get Report, JetBlue (JBLU) - Get Report, Southwest (LUV) - Get Report and Spirit Airlines (SAVE) - Get Report.
However, with the pandemic’s rapid spread and mandatory stay-at-home orders now covering more than a third of the U.S. population, 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 Journal reported.
U.S. airlines already have eliminated the vast majority of international flying and have announced plans to cut back domestic flying by as much as 40%. The Transportation Security Administration reported that passenger flow at its checkpoints was down more than 80% Sunday from the same day a year earlier, according to the Journal.
On Monday, thousands of flights were canceled, in some cases because planes weren’t full enough to justify the trip, with passengers numbering in the single digits, the Journal said, citing one flight between New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Washington D.C. that had just three passengers.
Airline shares have plunged as the coronavirus has enveloped North America. Some analysts and investors have expressed concern that major airlines could go bankrupt, as they did when travel virtually ceased after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.