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Coronavirus: American, Delta impose steep cuts to flights

Coronavirus: American, Delta impose steep cuts to flights
President Donald Trump speaks alongside Vice President Mike Pence, second from left,as they meet with airline CEO about the coronavirus outbreak at the White House on Wednesday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

March 10 (UPI) -- American Airlines and Delta Airlines announced significant reductions in their domestic and overseas flights in response to reduced passenger demand linked to the global outbreak of coronavirus.

Delta said Tuesday it would reduce its overall system capacity by 15 percent from its previous summer peak plans. International capacity will be slashed by up to 25 percent and domestic capacity reduced by up to 15 percent.

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American, meanwhile, said it would cut domestic flight capacity by 7.5 percent "to match demand" while reducing international capacity for the summer peak by 10 percent, including a 55 percent reduction in its trans-Pacific capacity to Asian destinations that have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

"As the virus has spread, we have seen a decline in demand across all entities, and we are taking decisive action to also protect Delta's financial position," Delta CEO Ed Bastian said. "As a result, we have made the difficult, but necessary decision to immediately reduce capacity and are implementing cost reductions and cash flow initiatives across the organization."

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Like American, Delta made its biggest reductions -- 65 percent -- to its trans-Pacific service while reducing its trans-Atlantic service to European destinations by up to 20 percent.

American said it will suspend service to mainland China from Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth throughout the summer and reduce service to Hong Kong from the two U.S. hubs.

The airline's existing suspension of service to Seoul from Dallas-Fort Worth was extended into early May, and flights to Japan will operate with smaller aircraft.

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Flights to Italy, the European country most affected by the coronavirus, were also significantly reduced.

Additionally, American will suspend service to Rome from Philadelphia through April and extend a suspension to Milan. Flights from Chicago and Charlotte, N.C., to Rome will be suspended until at least early summer.

"American will continue to take care of customers as this situation develops," the carrier said in a statement. "The airline recently announced that change fees will be waived for customers who purchased tickets prior to March 1 for travel through April 30."

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The reductions are based on the assumption there are no "slot waivers" in place in the United States. Under U.S. rules, carriers are required to operate valuable slots at busy airports at near-capacity in order to keep them for the next year. American said it has requested slot waivers "to better align capacity with demand without the risk of losing valuable takeoff and landing slots for the future."

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On domestic routes, American said it will "decrease frequencies in markets with robust schedule patterns and will cancel routes where customers can be easily re-accommodated."

In Europe, Norwegian Air Shuttle said it had canceled 3,000 flights scheduled for between mid-March and mid-June -- about 15 percent of its total capacity for the period -- and had also instituted temporary layoffs of a "significant share" of its workforce.

"This is a critical time for the aviation industry, including us at Norwegian," aid CEO Jacob Schram. "We encourage the authorities to immediately implement measures to imminently reduce the financial burden on the airlines in order to protect crucial infrastructure and jobs."

The International Air Transport Association said last week the viral outbreak is expected to cost the industry between $63 billion and $113 billion.

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