Shut It Down

Government Regulation

On Monday, I talked about the $50 billion airline stimulus that the government rolled out. One of the provisions in both the grant and the loan pieces of the pie said that the Department of Transportation (DOT) could require airlines to continue to serve all points until March 1, 2022. It appears that the DOT is going ahead with this mandate, and I can’t understand it. The right thing to do is to shut down most of the system, leaving only a skeleton operation behind.

DOT issued guidance earlier this week on just what is required from a service-level perspective to be able to qualify for grants and loans/loan guarantees.. Here is the summary.

  • Only US airports counts; no international point must be maintained
  • If an airline serves multiple airports in a city, it can consolidate to a single one
  • To get the list, DOT will first look at the schedules filed with OAG for the week ending February 29, 2020. It will also look at year-end 2019 schedules to fill in the blanks.
  • If an airline served a city at least 5 days per week, then it will be required to serve that city at least once a day for 5 days per week.
  • If an airline served a city less than 5 days per week, then it will be required to serve that city at least once a day for one day per week.
  • The requirement is to maintain service to a city, not to maintain service on a route. Each airline can serve each point as required in the two bullet points above from any one or multiple cities in the network.
  • The marketing airline is what matters here. Any mainline airline can move regional carriers around as needed to serve each city. The regional carrier doesn’t have the obligation.
  • This will only apply through September 30, 2020 to start. If DOT extends the obligation, it will do so before August 1, 2020.

This seems like a fair way to go about determining which routes were previously served, but that misses the point entirely. Just because an airline has flown it doesn’t mean it should continue to do so.

There are the obvious exceptions like seasonal routes that shouldn’t be operating now anyway. United just dropped its service to Mammoth Lakes in California. Is DOT really going to require that they go back in?

The answer is… probably not, I think. Here’s how this is worded in the docket.

…the Department tentatively determines to allow covered carriers, at any time for the duration of their Service Obligation, to request that points be exempted from their Service Obligation. Covered carriers should submit a list of points that they believe are not reasonable or practicable to serve and explain why service is not reasonable or practicable. The Department will inform covered carriers of its decision in a timely manner.

In other words, airlines can object, but it’s up to DOT to decide. That’s particularly problematic for an airline that’s debating whether to take this money or not. Without actually knowing which cities will have to be served, it’s tough to evaluate. Hopefully airlines are getting more guidance behind the scenes.

But ultimately, the question about Mammoth is minor and unimportant in the scheme of things. We are at a point now where almost nobody is flying on even the most popular routes. If an airline has a load factor above 15 percent, it’s doing well. And this is on an already vastly reduced schedule.

Just take a look at this screenshot from Flightradar24. It’s not as busy as it usually would be, but that is still a whole lot of airplanes flying around with nobody onboard.

European airlines have all but shut down. KLM is operating fewer than 30 intra-Europe flights per day from Amsterdam. Ryanair and easyJet have almost entirely parked their fleets. Yet here we are in the US with the government telling airlines they have to continue to serve every point on the map even when there’s no demand for the best of routes.

Every day we have airline employees, contractors, TSA officers, and more leaving their homes to do their duties. Many have gotten sick, and that will keep happening as long as airlines are flying. When a doctor risks everything to help the ill, it is for the greater good. But when a flight attendant risks everything to help one person get to Idaho Falls, then there is no good justification.

The system shouldn’t shut down entirely. There is no question that a skeleton air service network is needed. There are valid reasons to get on an airplane right now whether it be for healthcare, food supply, etc, and I would optimistically hope that most of the people flying today are doing so for good reason. We do need to have a transportation network. I still think the right way to handle this is for the government to pick the routes that are needed, assign them out, and set fares. Then fund that operation and let everyone else go home.

You’re going to tell me that an airline should continue to serve Chattanooga when it’s less than 2 hours to drive from Atlanta? What about Denver and Colorado Springs? I can do this all day. This is all, at best, horribly unnecessary at this point in time. At worst it’s helping this virus do more damage. When demand returns and the pandemic subsides, it’s a different story. But right now, DOT is just getting this wrong.

It is time to shut this down.

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55 comments on “Shut It Down

  1. “That’s particularly problematic for an airline that’s debating whether to take this money or not.”

    Is not taking the money a real choice for any airline?
    Despite these and all the other restrictions, if the alternative is getting nothing then it seems like an easy decision to make. The only way I can see airlines not take the money would be to temporarily stop operations completely as no flight can possibly be profitable now.

    1. I’ve seen a couple of articles suggesting that a few of the airlines that overwhelmingly serve leisure travelers (Spirit specifically, but it’d also apply to Frontier and Allegiant) would be better off cutting flights and not taking the Federal money. Rumour as of this morning is that Spirit will cut its schedule by ~90% from pre-corona levels.

      1. I agree that it makes sense for them, but do they have enough cash to survive that long? Even without flights they will still have costs.

  2. The Congress critters put in these restrictions to protect the cities in their states/districts. There is always a great political sensitivity to a city losing passenger air service.

  3. Thanks for recognizing the painful but so obvious issue, Brett. Forcing flights and all the attendant movement of people to and from airports,etc, is spreading the virus at a ridiculously high rate and will continue to promote the spread and will cause thousands and thousands of deaths? Why? To make certain people “look good”?

    If one was a terrorist and wanted to cause the maximum damage for the minimum expenditure of resources, this is exactly what this “force them to fly” idiocy is doing. It’s life and death and many Americans are doing nothing but whining” about being inconvenienced.

    Did you note in recent news the 70 college students who were not about to be “inconvenienced” chartered a flight from Austin to a Mexican beach resort? After all, it is just a disease that hits old people, right? Now more than 40 of them have tested positive, long the way infecting who knows how many innocent folks.

    We shut the entire industry down after 9/11 on the premise there MIGHT be other terrorists ready to attack. Now in the face of a real life and death enemy, we don’thave the courage to say no?

    1. “Forcing flights and all the attendant movement of people to and from airports,etc, is spreading the virus at a ridiculously high rate and will continue to promote the spread and will cause thousands and thousands of deaths?”

      This sounds horrible. Can you share your source?

      1. You can be a carrier & not realize it & therefore as stated, “Forcing flights and all the attendant movement of people to and from airports,etc, is spreading the virus at a ridiculously high rate and will continue to promote the spread and will cause thousands and thousands of deaths?” stands.

        I can speak to this as I received a call this morning from someone who is recovering from Covid 19. She’s a mother of three & also the father has it along with one of the teenage daughters. It needs to be assumed that the remaining children have it, but are asymptomatic. Thankfully everyone is fine & will recover without issue.

  4. Without question there should be fewer flights operating than there are now.

    What I would like to see is an analysis on how much flying activity is required to maintain the skills of pilots, FAs, ATC, mechanics, etc. And how often an airplane must fly to be airworthy. That’s what I am curious about.

    1. I think only pilots have to fly every so often to keep current (by regulation), although there might be airline policies for FAs and mechanics.

      As long as operations are ramped up slowly rather than a full schedule all at once there will be plenty of opportunity to bring everyone and everything back into normal service.

  5. I could not agree more. I live very close to CLT, the 6th largest airport in the US, and of course a well known AA hub. Although seriously reduced, there are still banks of planes coming in and out at certain hours, and they are coming in from places that make your head scratch. Hilton Head Island, Chattanooga, Nashville, Raleigh, Richmond, etc. All easily within a few hours of driving.

    If you want to hear an honest flight attendants plea, go over to this: https://thejasminebrand.com/2020/03/29/flight-attendant-tests-positive-for-coronavirus-pleads-w-friends-from-hospital-bed-to-stop-flying-video/. This poor woman caught Corona, ended up in hospital with severe Pneumonia, and posted video’s from her hospital bed.

    Brett’s headline says it all: shut it down.

  6. I would think some level of CRAF redeployment of planes would help right now. Trunk lines only, but it’d be a smarter way to get healthcare workers and supplies where they need to be. Wind everything else down for 30 days, keep just enough workers on site to keep the lights on and pay everyone else to stay home/stay healthy.

  7. There are two different programs the wording of each and the implementing procedures probably could have been better, but the need to get the programs going overrode everything else. The airlines wanted money, but not governmental oversight. Why the airline industry, after all of these years still cannot manage cash, is past puzzling. (The only other “industry” in the United States that is worse at managing its financial affairs is the US Government.) The loans will come with oversight, but what form that oversight takes is just beginning to be discussed. Will it be ownership stakes with voting power? Will it be ownership stakes without voting power? Will it be warrants or some form of convertible bonds? Will continued employment levels provide a pathway to loan forgiveness (ties in the other issue discussed below). The 535 federal voting members of Congress don’t have a clue of how to run a company, so hopefully, they will leave it up to the Treasury Department (I doubt it, which only increases the damage to the economy).

    The competing issue is the need to keep people on a payroll for as long as possible and for transportation of essential people and, most importantly, critical medical related cargo and to a lesser degree. The transportation issues are why they want the airlines to keep running (which, as you mentioned, should be at least one flight a day between all airports currently served). Money to the airlines that cooperate in this plan should come out of a different program without any ownership provisions. One idea that the major US airlines are discussing is common fares with the utilization of any metal. While this sets off every anti-trust warning bell, it does have merit.

    1. “Why the airline industry, after all of these years still cannot manage cash, is past puzzling.”

      That may have certainly been true historically, but I don’t think that it’s been the case in the last few years. Maybe as a broad statement, but not all carriers?
      That aside, even the most fiscally prudent of airlines couldn’t have built a business model with this in mind. No one banks on demand cratering 85-90% overnight.

      1. “That may have certainly been true historically, but I don’t think that it’s been the case in the last few years. Maybe as a broad statement, but not all carriers?”

        We will have to disagree on this point. All cash buybacks do is take cash out of the organization, which inhibits the ability to manage cash for the long term viability of the company. Then there is the death wish of spending cash via inadequate pricing to defend market share when, in some circumstances, there is no way to avoid cash drain even in the best of times.

        As far as planning for black swan events, all successful companies do plan for these, but saving cash before and during the crises is at the root of the process.

        Greg

        @ERMFinance

      2. The specific issue that some airlines have gotten criticized for is the use of cash for stock buybacks so managers could hit incentive targets instead of either saving the cash or using it to pay down debt, which would reduce interest expense.

        Other industries have been criticized for this too, so it’s not just the airlines. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a near-total ban on stock buybacks if the Democrats win this year (which I’d support if coupled with a provision allowing companies to pay dividends out of pre-tax earnings so we can reduce favouring debt financing over equity.)

        1. Exactly THIS. While airlines do serve the public good, they are also publicly trade companies that exist for the benefit of the shareholder. Stock buybacks benefit shareholders. It’s that simple. There’s a broader philosophical discussion that could occur around constituents within an organization (shareholders, employees and the community) but at the end of the day, government regulation favors shareholders above all else and does not penalize companies even when they focus on shareholders to the exclusion of their financial viability. We have to get back to an emphasis on dividends.

  8. Let all of the small players cease operations, and have the big dogs (American, Delta, and United, and probably Southwest), operate skeleton schedules on the trunk lines as a matter of public necessity until everything subsides.

  9. Insanity.

    Interaction with scope clauses makes this even worse. Airlines will have to run 737s and A320s even on extremely low-demand routes, while leaving a sizable number of 50- and 70-seaters parked on the tarmac somewhere.

    I’d expect every airline to submit a giant list of requests for exemptions. They’ll have a good case – serving most locations won’t even cover their variable costs.

    Assuming they can’t get widespread waivers, the obvious solution for the airlines here is to cut service at every non-hub airport to only a single hub. This will cause many domestic routes to require 2 connections, but that’s better than it not being possible at all.

    Re: Colorado Springs and similar cases, I’m curious if it would be permissible for serve the airport via a bus connection to a larger nearby airport, like UA does to connect ABE to EWR. The language in the document pretty clearly says “flight”, but it’s possible that the DOT would be flexible on this.

  10. While I’m in agreement with “shut it down”, I also think airlines can get creative to thread the needle with these DOT requirements…and various interstate de facto travel bans…to drastically reduce service anyway, axing driveable routes in a large number of cases. Cities where they have the least flexibility are ones where they’re only serving one destination currently (Delta for small Georgia towns comes to mind), but that’s the sort of thing I expect the DOT to get exemption requests on anyway.

    Let’s take three airports and get creative, assuming everyone at each airport takes the bailout money:

    CHA

    G4 – CLT 1x or 5x/wk (temporarily moving operations from Concord aka JQF); figure out a codeshare with AA so AA can drop the route
    AA – DFW 5x/wk
    DL – DTW 5x/wk (people needing to go to/through Atlanta can drive)
    UA – ORD 5x/wk

    Given that the DOT order is just about points on a map, unless I’m mistaken there’s nothing stopping a ULCC from doing the above, crossing cities off their list of must-serve destinations as a result. Technically CHA-CLT could be G4’s only route touching both of those cities…which is just as well because basically all of JQF is flights to Florida under normal circumstances and I guarantee those planes are empty right now.

    COS

    AA – DFW 5x/wk
    DL – SLC 5x/wk
    F9 – PHX 1-5x/wk, codeshared with AA
    UA – ORD 5x/wk

    …and of course…

    AUS

    AS – 5x/wk to PDX or maybe SEA
    G4 – 5x/wk to PHX, temporarily moving from AZA, codesharing with AA
    AA – As much as they need to DFW
    DL – MSP 5x/wk (no ATL?!?…wait for it…)
    F9 – 5x/wk to SLC, codeshared with DL
    B6 – 5x/wk to BOS
    WN – Whatever they feel like providing…betting they somehow keep the DCA flight through all this at 5x/wk and that alone would be enough
    NK – ATL 5x/wk, codeshared with DL, using an A319 so there are still 10 Domestic F seats…okay, this one is a stretch…maybe ORD 5x/wk, codeshared with both AA and UA
    UA – As much as they need to IAH…and maybe DEN

    This assumes that legacies would be willing to codeshare with ULCCs in order to maintain hub connectivity and not have to fly their own planes empty. But, given that they’ve already made noise about consolidating flights, this isn’t as insane as it looks on the surface, and allows for a deeper drawdown across the board while still maintaining connectivity. And throwing ULCC seat pitch on routes will further encourage folks to stay home ;)

  11. I will provide a dissenting opinion to the mindset of “shut it all down.”

    First, airlines are receiving very large and unique cash grants that most other industries are not receiving. There is no reason for airlines to receive massive grants which cover much of their salary and benefit costs if they are going to completely suspend service.

    Second, some airlines have spent the last several years aggressively expanding their networks to cities via long routes from hubs that were two-thirds of the way across the country. Those types of routes were probably not viable then but those are the commitments that airlines made to communities and those commitments do need to be honored. Federal requirements allow service to be via ANY hub or city so that, if a city was served from a distant hub but also a closer one, only the distant hub needs to be dropped.

    Third, the fed requirement to maintain service is a clear denial of the request by several airlines to consolidate operations. The long-term harm to consumers by undoing decades of competition is simply too large. Other countries have extensive rail networks and those are generally exclusive; the US has uniquely supported the airline industry as the choice for intercity common carrier transportation.

    Fourth, American, Delta and United all have scope requirements regarding the use of regional jets, esp. large regional jets, which will have to be managed with their own unions. Airlines that had domestic networks that were heavily dependent on regional jets before the crisis will be forced to either fly significantly more mainline flights or shrink their regional operations. All of the big 3 were in negotiations with their pilot unions when the virus crisis began and the issue of scope was an issue before the crisis began and most certainly will be now.

    Fourth, shutting down the national commercial aviation system is not only a sign of surrender but also an admission that commercial aviation is not an essential service. One of the primary reasons that the federal government has been willing to offer generous grants to airlines is because they want an aviation system that can move people and goods now but be ready to support the economy as it recovers.

    Finally, this crisis will pass. Airlines – like most companies and individuals – should have the resources on hand to manage a four to six week loss of revenue (or income). Even though revenue will be depressed for months to come, the grants will help airlines manage their diminished revenues as they appropriately restructure their businesses. Multiple countries have seen that the worst of the disease occurs in a two month period and then very slow recovery begins. That is consistent with other pandemics over centuries of human history.

    Airlines, like people and companies throughout the world, will bear long-term scars from this virus crisis – but they need to keep operating even at bare minimum levels for a very short period of time in anticipation of a gradual return of business. Government support for the industry demands that airlines weather the crisis and continually adapt to the challenges it presents.

    1. “Fourth, shutting down the national commercial aviation system is not only a sign of surrender but also an admission that commercial aviation is not an essential service.”

      Not remotely a sign of surrender – it’s acknowledging that this virus spread as quickly as it did, because we live in an inter-connected world where people are travelling all over the place, all of the time. The Flightradar maps of airspace over the US are currently an embarrassment. Stay. At. Home.

    2. Airlines, like people and companies throughout the world, will bear long-term scars from this virus crisis – but they need to keep operating even at bare minimum levels for a very short period of time in anticipation of a gradual return of business. Government support for the industry demands that airlines weather the crisis and continually adapt to the challenges it presents.

      Tim,

      I get your point, but you assume that passengers will want to travel once this passes & I don’t think that is the case at all. I personally believe that a high percentage of americans will be so traumatized by this virus they will avoid most public places for quite a while. It’s a combo of agoraphobia, germaphobia & paranoia all rolled into one. I don’t want to blather into minute details, but I think you understand it.

      1. Sean,
        I get your point, but if the airlines aren’t viable even in the medium to long-term, the grants and government backed loans aren’t necessary. They need to liquidate and government support is not necessary other than the standard unemployment and bankruptcy processes.

        Problem w/ your theory is that there will be huge swaths of the economy that are equally affected by the same fears -restaurants, retail, entertainment….

        The reason why airlines are getting support is because the industry is concentrated in the hands of a few players and transportation is an essential service on a long-term basis; what happens right now is not reflective of what even the medium term looks like.

        The world has seen pandemics before and the pattern is repeatedly very deep, short term interruptions followed by recovery.

        The Feds (including Congress and the Senate) made the decision that airlines will recover and they only need short-term support on a grant basis. Individual companies will fail but the industry as a whole will recover.

        If you think that is not true, then let your government leaders know to not waste resources on airlines that you don’t believe will be viable. And if airlines do have a long-term position in the economy, then it does make sense to support them in the short-term and to require them to operate their networks as they existed before the crisis even if at greatly reduced levels.

        1. Hi Tim,

          As I’m certain you know, I have the utmost respect for your expertise.

          However, in this instance, I’m going to respectfully disagree on any rational justification to keep nearly empty planes flying for reasons that are discussed in separate reader comments (at time this reply was written those comments were awaiting moderator’s approval if this reply appears ahead of the other one!).

          Yes, there may be some challenges for our airlines in the USA, when compared to others around the world, such as scope clauses, or our country’s long ago defined (post WW2/1950s) economic & political policies that prioritized automobiles/other motor vehicles using the network of Interstate Highways, and later, air travel over railroads, that now finds our country lacking any meaningful rail options outside of a handful of major cities or the Northeast corridor from Washington, DC to Boston, as many countries the world over have.

          However, one region where they’ve shut down airports in cities that have more than one, and where flights have been cut to the bare minimums required, is Europe, which although much of that region has railways that offer viable alternatives to air travel that our country (desperately) lacks, what it does have, are deeply entrenched, not to mention far more powerful than they are here, unions.

          So, if governments in Europe, many of which are far more sympathetic to (or perhaps afraid of! ;) ) than here in the USA, can find a way to overcome any obstacles (strikes/other job actions/slowdowns) or objections from unions there, surely there must be a way to deal with scope clauses and other union matters on a temporary basis until the worst of this pandemic, and its resultant adverse economic impacts, are behind us.

          Finally, and as noted in my comments in the other post (referenced above), I fail to see any justification to needlessly require redundant operations that wastes fuel, pumps CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, and most importantly, unnecessarily places employees & their families’ in harms way.

          Best regards,

          Howard

        2. Sean,
          I get your point, but if the airlines aren’t viable even in the medium to long-term, the grants and government backed loans aren’t necessary. They need to liquidate and government support is not necessary other than the standard unemployment and bankruptcy processes.

          Yes, that is exactly the point. Giving the airlines loans that they will never pay back is an amazing order of stupidity.

          Problem w/ your theory is that there will be huge swaths of the economy that are equally affected by the same fears -restaurants, retail, entertainment….

          Those same fears do exist in other parts of the economy & will show themselves in due time, I guarantee it.

          The reason why airlines are getting support is because the industry is concentrated in the hands of a few players and transportation is an essential service on a long-term basis; what happens right now is not reflective of what even the medium term looks like.

          And how can you speak to that as we are seeing rapid adoption of zoom for conferencing right now. If this trend continues, there will be far less of a need for air travel as companies will use this to save money.

    3. Right now Zoom is much more of an essential service than commercial airlines’ empty flights from Bumfudge, ID to Seattle and Holeintheground, TX to Houston. Let’s stop setting money on fire by flying utterly unprofitable routes. That’s not “surrendering” (to whom? The virus doesn’t care), it’s smart business. Restart them gradually when people are no longer told to stay at home.

    4. Tim Dunn: Thanks for providing some reasoned thinking amidst the hysteria. Some of us are essential workers and do still require access to air travel. Planes don’t need to fly with 3 people on board, but some need to keep flying.

  12. If one stops at the headline, it can be a bit misleading. If one reads the fourth sentence of the piece, it says, “The right thing to do is to shut down MOST of the system, leaving only a SKELETON OPERATION behind.” (emphasis added)

    To me, the key is to define precisely what a “skeleton operation” is.

    No one said it would be easy.

    One question that comes to my mind is, “What is the optimum load factor?” It seems obvious to me that 15% is too low. But most of us don’t want to be stuffed into a closed-in tube without some physical distance between us and our fellow passengers. One of my long-time acquaintances is a flight attendant with American. She posted a picture on Facebook and mentioned that there were 15 passengers on the A320 where she was working (which works out to a 10% load factor). Is 50% the right amount to make the flight worth operating from both a safety and economic perspective? What about 33% or 67%? Beats me. Flying empty planes around is a waste on many levels, but having enough space among the passengers is also important for safety reasons, given the nature of viruses, which can be transmitted to others even when the host isn’t exhibiting symptoms.

    Again, as with many things in life, the key is finding the right balance.

  13. Same general topic, but different comment for Cranky.

    How much of the system is actually flying these days? I checked the basic routes on which I normally fly (a non-statistically valid sample, for sure). But, they are all cities of 500k or more to cities of 3MM or more. Almost all of the flights are cancelled.

    Why are the airlines still selling tickets for a 5:30 a.m. departure that, for example, American has cancelled every day this week. That seems close to, if not actual, fraud.

    1. Tim – A lot of flights are being canceled close in because they were already scheduled with crew pairings and all that. It’s hard to just pull down an operation overnight if you aren’t shutting it down entirely. This will go away over time.

  14. Dear Brett Snyder,

    “Shut it Down” is an excellent article about how to close down and hopefully save the airlines while keeping everyone safe.

    Did you happen to read the article below about the poison pill in the Stimulus Package for airline workers?
    As a retired flight attendant, I certainly hope it is NOT true!

    ‘Poison Pill’ in Stimulus Package Could Cost Millions of Airline Jobs, Labor Leaders Say

    Secretary Mnuchin’s power under a late-stage provision added to the CARES Act allows the secretary “the authority to take ownership stakes in the airlines in exchange for any funds that keep workers on payroll.”
    That reworking of funding to create a payroll “loan” as opposed to a grant is a provision that could lead to the government with a 40% stake in the airlines—effectively eliminating any chance of the airlines taking the available funding in the bill out of fear of public ownership.

    In an interview with Common Dreams, Nelson* said that the 11th hour changing of the terms in the bill for $2.5 billion in funding for airline workers—flightcrews and airport workers—would present the industry with more than enough reason to reject the funding and turn to other protections. “By putting onerous conditions on these payroll grants, the government is going to make them opt for bankruptcy,” said Nelson.

    *Sara Nelson, International President of Flight Attendant Union

    Full article: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/04/01/poison-pill-stimulus-package-could-cost-millions-airline-jobs-labor-leaders-say

    I look forward to your opinion on how the CARES Act will help airline workers… or not!
    Thanks for your informative blog!

    Kirk Moore Retired flight attendant

    Wm. Kirk Moore Fine Art Photography http://www.wmkirkmoore.com https://www.instagram.com/wmkirkmoore

  15. Back in the 1980’s when load factors averaged in the 60’s, airlines operated “tag” flights and “wrap” flights. An example of a tag flight: PHX-OMA-DSM or DEN-AUS-SAT. A wrap flight was the same flight number operating thru: PHX-SJC-OAK-PHX. The wrap flight was great because you were carrying Passengers from PHX to OAK and from SJC-PHX, thus still providing the service.

    These types of service patterns would still meet DOT requirements.

  16. Great analysis; agree 100% with Cranky Flier!

    We’re putting employees’ and their families’ health & wellness unnecessarily at risk; and it’s not just a colossal waste of fuel, but what’s the justification for keeping nearly empty airplanes needlessly flying & spewing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere?

    Isn’t that patently ridiculous?

    And this builds on commentary & analysis posted a few days ago by another industry expert, Seth Miller (no relation despite our same last name!), who questioning the wisdom of cities that have more than one airport, such as we have in NYC, keeping all of them open instead of consolidating operations at its largest airports/gateways so that problems arising from employees working at the airports & air traffic control tower aren’t performing redundant work at multiple airports where there’s already excess capacity, and where a positive test in the control tower, say at LaGuardia, as already happened recently, does not result in other downstream problems if flights have to be diverted, while the tower is shut down, etc.

    Further, cities that have multiple airports also have more complicated skies for controllers to keep track of for take offs & approaches/landings, so why not close down the least used airport(s), consolidate operations at the largest one(s), and streamline the workload for the air traffic controllers by reducing the complexity of managing traffic flows into multiple airports?

    Plus why should scarce resources be spread over several airports, each with ample capacity to spare, than then requires that many more employees to commute to work, which here in NYC a great many of us do not own cars, and therefore must ride buses & subways/commuter trains, and increasing their risk of contracting Covid19 & bringing it home to their families (especially if they’re asymptomatic carriers).

    Mr. Miller makes a case for shutting down airports in cities where there are more than one that can more than adequately meet the needs of the 10-15% load factors on the already vastly diminished volume of flights, as many cities around the world, such as London & Paris, just to cite two examples, have already/are doing.

    Simply put, we’d be wise to follow the examples being set around the world, with closing unneeded, vastly underutilized airports at a minimum – but better yet, by taking the measures that Cranky Flier recommends in his comments above to stop flying nearly empty planes needlessly.

    We shouldn’t be unnecessarily be putting lives in harms’ way, and absent compelling reasons to keep nearly empty planes flying, wasting fuel while also pumping CO2 emissions into the atmosphere for no good reason.

    Common sense alone dictates that our country do as most countries around the world are already doing:

    Only flying when there’s a legitimate need, and suspending everything else unless and until demand requires increasing capacity, be it in the air, or on the ground.

      1. Oliver,

        No truer words can be said than yours.

        Surely, this next level absence of common sense, let alone anything resembling intelligence in how our country addressed this already horrific pandemic across the board will be viewed by historians and future generations as among the most critical failures of our time, whose cost economically will likely be far greater than it should’ve been, let alone the “cost” as measured in the otherwise preventable loss of life, which of course, is incalculable, for our country’s epic failure to exercise the most basic semblance of common sense even now, as bodies pile up and unemployment soars.

        It’s all so sad how much time was wasted, and the incalculable difference that will ultimately result had we simply exercised even the most rudimentary common sense to implement preventative measures and harm reduction by the end of January, or even mid-February, instead of waiting until mid-March to begin addressing this pandemic.

        If the catastrophic losses (aka “opportunity cost”) already incurred from the “Sin of Omission” for failing to act when the opportunity existed yet still aren’t enough to get our leaders to begin using common sense in allowing the best qualified experts’ regardless of political party affiliations to take charge, then future generations will be right when they view our generation not as the “Greatest” as so many of us who have reverence for our parents and grandparents who fought in World War 2, but rather, the exact opposite as us being among the most “Worst” generation in our country’s history.

        I don’t know what else to say other than it’s all so sad.

  17. As Flight Attendant with JetBlue currently on R&R for April and May probably what you state here is what all of us are wondering.  Especially those that need to work and can”t afford to take time off.  Thank you for explaining it so clearly for all to read.

  18. So congress puts all these strings on the Airlines, but Nancy Pelosi puts some 25 Million dollar BS funding for the Kennedy Center with no restrictions. Now they are laying off there staff with no pay or medical.

    1. Why do so many people think that Pelosi had anything to do with the Kennedy center funding?

      I see this all over Facebook and Instagram as well.

      “Hey, this looks like wasteful spending, let’s blame Pelosi!”

  19. Seriously, the only people who should be flying these days are people who need to be somewhere for a basic human need such as medical professionals who are needed in COVID hot spots or people who are working on ensuring needed medicines and devices get to people.

  20. When they eventually get there heads on properly, & shut things down. It needs to happen-even if it’s only for 4-5 weeks until we can get this virus under control. Here are my thoughts, I believe we will see several airlines not survive a shutdown.

    To me these would seem to be the most likely to fail if a shutdown happens, they mainly serve leisure travelers, and i don’t see that segment coming back for a while. (Someone correct me if I’m wrong) I think Spirit & Frontier are the strongest financially out of the ones listed.

    *Allegiant Air
    *Frontier
    *Spirit
    *Sun Country
    *Silver Airways

  21. Are there any actual stats that show that flight is currently dangerous to flight crews? I’d be extremely surprised if this were actually true. The planes are empty, the hotels are empty, etc. Sure, it would be safer to be at home, but I don’t think flying is remotely dangerous. Driving a city bus is probably 50x more risky.

    We also don’t really have any information showing that ANYONE has ever caught coronavirus on an airplane. I assume it’s happened, but it’s certainly not common. Probably easier to get it in a supermarket. Airplanes have very good air filters.

    We obviously have too many planes flight now. But that will self-correct. Everyone is drawing down their April and May schedules. And everyone is preparing for the apocalypse. As I write this, though, the data doesn’t show apocalypse in the USA. Even in NYC, the data shows improvement. Everyone is gearing up for the “worst case scenario,” but what if it doesn’t happen? This is a virus we’re dealing with, not a scripted horror movie.

    I’m already contemplating the next phase of this crisis. The virus inevitably recedes, but everyone remains fearful. They don’t want “out of towners” arriving at their airport. They maintain quarantine rules when they’re not really medically justified. It’s going to stay weird in America for a few months regardless of what happens.

    1. iahphx – I’d say it’s very hard to track back illness directly to a flight since the time between infection and showing symptoms can be up to two weeks. But there are a growing number of cases in airline employees. The reality is pretty straightforward. If you are out mingling in public, your chances of infection go up a lot. This isn’t just about social distancing on an airplane. This is about all the touchpoints where you encounter others. That includes being in the airport, in the parking lot, getting gas,on the airport shuttle, at the rental car place, at the hotel lobby.
      Any exposure to others is bad and air travel is mixing people from many different places, even if the crowds aren’t what they once were.

  22. It’s all about maintaining demand for fuel. One of Trump’s major goals is to boost oil/gas prices. Forcing airlines to fly empty planes will help out in that area.

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