American, Delta and United on Thursday said they were capping fares on several U.S.-bound routes from much of Europe as travelers race to get home due to President Donald Trump's new travel ban aimed at combating the spread of the coronavirus.
Delta is also planning to start cutting its service between smaller nonhub U.S. airports and Europe starting Friday.
Other airlines are likely to follow suit, based on similar actions in previous crises.
Trump on Wednesday night announced travel restrictions from most of Europe to the U.S. for 30 days as COVID-19 spans continents. He incorrectly stated in his televised address that the government "will be suspending all travel from Europe to U.S.," sowing confusion among travelers and airline crews.
The new rules, which take effect Friday, just before midnight, don't ban flights outright but rather prohibit foreigners who have been in Europe in the last two weeks from entering the country. The ban applies to the 26 countries in the so-called Schengen Area of Europe, which does not include the U.K. and Ireland. Italy has been the hardest-hit by the coronavirus outside of China, prompting drastic measures that essentially shut down most business activity nationwide.
The chaos sparked a rush for flights back to the U.S., causing fares to spike and sparking criticism on social media of what some called price gouging. Listed fares automatically rise when demand climbs. Airlines learned the hard way during the 2017 hurricane season to cap fares after a social media backlash about fares out of Puerto Rico and Florida.
"We are placing caps on our fares for all cabins on flights from Europe to the U.S. that are affected by the government-imposed travel restrictions," said American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein. The spike in demand has limited the number of seats available, however.
Trump in his address called the coronavirus, which has been detected in several major U.S. cities already, "foreign," and blamed inaction by Europeans to stem its spread.
"As a result" of Europe's inaction, Trump said, "a large number of clusters" of coronavirus "were seeded by travelers from Europe."
Airline shares around the world were battered again on Thursday because of the U.S. travel restrictions, which drew a rebuke from the European Union.
The virus "is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action," European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement. "The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to impose a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation. The European Union is taking strong action to limit the spread of the virus."