Major US airlines drastically cut service in response to coronavirus outbreak: 'Unlike anything we've seen'

A number of major U.S. airlines are drastically cutting back service in response to Trump’s travel ban and the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.

On Sunday, United Airlines became the latest of the country’s largest carriers to announce deep cuts to the capacity of its fleet, confirming it would be slashing flights by about half in April and May.

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In a memo shared with employees, United CEO Oscar Munoz and President J. Scott Kirby said they expected both customers and revenue to continue to “decline sharply.” They also outlined the steps that United was taking to reduce its payroll expenses, including instituting a 50-percent salary cut for corporate officers.

United CEO Oscar Munoz, along with United President J. Scott Kirby, said in a memo to employees that the airline would be cutting flight capacity by roughly half.

United CEO Oscar Munoz, along with United President J. Scott Kirby, said in a memo to employees that the airline would be cutting flight capacity by roughly half. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“As you know, March is typically our busiest month of the year.  But this year, in just the first two weeks of March, we have welcomed more than one million fewer customers on board our aircraft than the same period last year. We're also currently projecting that revenue in March will be $1.5 billion lower than last March,” Munoz and Kirby wrote in the memo.

“The bad news is that it's getting worse,” they added.

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The two then detailed the previous steps United had taken to minimize the impact of the situation, imposing a hiring freeze, slashing schedules, and cutting the “CEO base salary” by 100 percent.

Munoz and Kirby added that they would formally announce further cuts to service — around 50 percent — planned for April and May, with continued repercussions likely during the summer months, too — “and that’s if things don’t get worse,” they said.

On Saturday, American Airlines had also announced additional cuts to service following the temporary travel ban on flights entering the United States from 26 European nations, confirming that the carrier would be cutting 75 percent of its international flights through at least May 6.

“This change is in response to decreased demand and changes to U.S. government travel restrictions due to coronavirus (COVID-19),” the airline wrote in a news release posted online.

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Last week, Delta, another major U.S. carrier providing international service, had said it would be cutting its flight capacity by 40 percent, or “the largest capacity reduction in Delta’s history, including 2001,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian in a letter sent to employees on Wednesday.

“The speed of the demand fall-off is unlike anything we’ve seen — and we’ve seen a lot in our business,” said Bastian.

“The speed of the demand fall-off is unlike anything we’ve seen — and we’ve seen a lot in our business."

— Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian

The last of the country’s four major carriers, Southwest Airlines, had gone on record saying it was “seriously considering” cutting back schedules as well, per Reuters. (Of the four airlines, Southwest operates the fewest international flights.)

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Amid cuts to service and decreased demand, U.S. carriers are also offering waivers for change or cancellation fees. Those still planning to travel can also learn more about what to bring, how airlines are stepping up cleaning protocols, and how to stay safe on flights.