Airlines slash most flights to coronavirus hot spot NYC, as area grows more isolated

Key Points
  • American on Sunday joined United and JetBlue are slashing service in the New York area, a COVID-19 hotspot.
  • Air travel demand has plunged because of coronavirus and measures to stop it from spreading.
  • Newark and New York's JFK International Airport had been among the busiest in the country.

In this article

An American Airlines passenger jet (Boeing 737) lands at LaGuardia Airport in New York, New York.
Robert Alexander | Archive Photos | Getty Images

American Airlines on Sunday slashed its flights to the New York City area by more than 90%, the latest carrier to drastically reduce service to the region, now a coronavirus hot spot.

"As coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in New York City and the surrounding region continues to increase, along with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for travel to the area, the demand for flights to the New York area is rapidly evaporating," David Seymour, American's senior vice president of operations, wrote to employees in a memo.

New York-area airports are normally among the busiest in the country and the area has some of the most congested airspace, but coronavirus has prompted several carriers to cut service to bare bones, leaving the region more isolated. The cuts in the tri-state region are deeper in some cases than those carriers are making throughout their networks, as demand for air travel craters because of the disease.

More than 120,000 people have tested positive for the disease in New York state, more than half of those in New York City, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just over a week ago urged residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to refrain from nonessential domestic travel for 14 days.

Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines said it will operate eight departures from New York's LaGuardia Airport, down from about 170 in April 2019. It will also fly three daily flights from John F. Kennedy International Airport, down from around 80 midweek peak departures in the same month last year. And the airline will operate one daily flight to its Charlotte hub and another to its home at Dallas-Fort Worth from Newark Liberty International Airport. 

American will operate the newly reduced schedule through May 6.

President Donald Trump last week hinted that he was considering restrictions on flights between coronavirus "hot spots." His administration hasn't taken such a step, but airlines have pulled back almost all of their service in the area.

Other airlines including United and JetBlue have announced deep cuts to their New York City-area service because of the virus.

United Airlines said Saturday that it is slashing service at its Newark hub from 139 daily flights to just 15, and from New York's LaGuardia Airport from 18 to two daily flights for at least the next three weeks.

"While New York and New Jersey are the primary COVID-19 hotspots today, we will also watch the situation on the ground in stations all across our network and evaluate additional mitigation measures we can take in those locations as well," Greg Hart, United's chief operations officer, wrote to employees on Saturday. United's local employees will continue to be paid with benefits despite the reduction, Hart said.

The Association of Flight Attendants, which represents some 50,000 cabin crew members, including those at United, applauded the move and had previously called for a halt to leisure flights in favor of just essential service.

"Our first job is to stop the spread of the virus," AFA's president, Sara Nelson, said in statement. "Aviation has a role to play in that but there's a clear line. Essential service to our communities is important, but not one flight more than necessary."

Delta Air Lines also cutting its New York-area flights by around 90% "with only essential service to hubs and top U.S. markets," a spokeswoman said. The Atlanta-based airline, for example, will have just 15 flights at LaGuardia, down from nearly 270 in April 2019.

Spirit Airlines last week would suspend operations at five airports in the tri-state area, including LaGuardia, Newark and Hartford, through at least May 4 because of the CDC warning.

American said that it will also operate a reduced schedule — from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. — at Newark, LaGuardia and JFK and staff flights by crews based outside of the New York City area.

U.S. airlines on Friday applied for portions of $25 billion in government grants that would require them not to furlough or cut the pay rates of their employees through Sept. 30. Democratic lawmakers, labor unions and some industry members have urged Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin not to place onerous conditions on the aid, such as equity stakes they argue could make the relief less attractive to airlines, and ultimately cost jobs.

Conditions for that aid also require airlines to maintain service to cities airlines served before March 1, 2020, according to Treasury Department guidelines, but carriers can reduce frequencies and consolidate flights into one airport serving a city.