U.S. Government And Airlines Developing Plans To Shut Down Domestic Aviation

Both the government and U.S. carriers are considering a partial or total shutdown of the domestic airline industry. No final decision has been made yet on whether to move forward.

Airlines see themselves losing money. The TSA has been seeing screeners testing positive. Flight crew, too. And air traffic controllers – over the weekend New York airports closed for a few hours while New York Center was disinfected after an employee there tested positive for COVID-19. (Chicago Midway and Las Vegas towers were closed but duties can be managed remotely.)

None of this means that it will happen, and it’s certainly prudent planning – and prudent to be leaking that planning. Here are 9 considerations.

  1. Airlines want word of a potential shutdown out as a stalking horse for a bailout. It’s the horrible threat that politicians don’t want on their hands, which they can stop with a single vote in Congress.

  2. I covered these rumors with respect to American Airlines over the weekend, and the mainstream media is playing catch up. My take was a shutdown wasn’t imminent as long as there was hope of a bailout.

  3. With load factors in the 20s, planes three quarters empty, there are very few routes making money even factoring just marginal costs. Airlines should mostly shut themselves down to preserve cash, hunker down and wait this out.

  4. A government-mandated shutdown puts them in a much better position for aid than if they shut themselves down, so there’s a game of chicken.

  5. Shutting down airlines presents a problem not just for passengers but also cargo. Airlines have received subsidies for years for participating in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet readiness program which allows government to take planes for their own use in emergencies. The government might even take over private sector flying for ‘essential’ purposes.

  6. Two weeks ago I reported on discussions around domestic travel restrictions. This would mean at least a partial shut down of the airline industry in the United States. It seems almost inevitable that flying would be limited either out of the areas most affected by the virus (a lockdown) or to protect areas that aren’t heavily hit or recovering from being re-infected. Already the Governor of Florida is doing what he can to lock down passengers coming from New York.

  7. A shutdown would be costly for an airline, they have to store planes (and keep them maintained in storage, and eventually spend to bring them up to par in returning them from storage).

  8. Pilots won’t remain current, meeting required live takeoffs and landings, and there aren’t enough simulators to keep all grounded pilots through needed sim time either. That means it isn’t only costly to shut down and power back up and airline, it could be time consuming as well just to get pilots to a place they’ll be legally permitted to operate commercial flights again.

  9. Any shut down is likely gradual. This would allow airlines to position planes, crews to return home, and give passengers a window ot reach their destinations as well.

Even if a decision were made today some limited service would need to continue for more than a week, if only because the U.S. is operating chartered rescue flights to bring Americans home from around the world at least through the end of the month. Those flights bring passengers to the U.S. but they still have to get home from the gateway city.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Why do you post garbage like this? President Trump already announced there will not be a domestic travel ban. Either way.. why not stick to Hotels/Airlines reviews and stay away from being CNN.

    I’m not a Trump supporter… but this world doesn’t need another CNN (which is what boarding area is turning into)

  2. @ryan “I’m not a trump supporter… but I believe what he says”

    So your saying your just an idiot? lol.

    Telling me you believe trumps words at all shows your lack of ability to discern anything.

    No worries while we’re stuck inside you can ask Santa to bring you some.

  3. Good take on this. If I ran an airline (thankfully for you I don’t) I would do a ground stop for most of the fleet and concentrate on the maintenance of planes. Try to get any and all pending or upcoming maintenance completed. Clean, clean, clean them all and video it for social media PR purposes. I’d try to hedge fuel for future years. I would try to run some freight (with limited passengers) and rotate pilots on those planes and well as sim time to keep them up to date as much as possible. While we are at it I would retrain all the gate agents and customer-facing staff with full pay so they can improve (I’m talking to you American agents at PHL). The problem with much of this is logistics. It’s hard to get crew or pilots in the right place if there are no flights, duh.

    And Boeing. FIX THE MAX, NOW. We don’t care if you rename it but just get it done already. You want your stock to rebound, do it.

    All that aside the hysteria needs to have an end date attached regardless of this flu hysteria. The CDC estimates that AT LEAST 38,000,000 have had the flu since October with well over 20,000 deaths. Heck, we allow over 11,000 abortion deaths a week in the USA. The President needs to take charge of this and set a date. April 1st, April 7th, etc. That way we can all plan for that financially and emotionally.

    As for bailouts. We will need those. We don’t need to attach pork to them like say funding the Kennedy Center. Provide a low-interest rate loan program line of credit to the airlines of say 4% where the loan is guaranteed by their equipment if they default. Or something like that.

  4. Gary it was New York Center that was closed, not the TRACON.
    Stay safe and stay healthy.

  5. @ Trump supporters — Please plan your Spring Break trips for the first week of April. This will help our great airlines and the greatest economy ever (have you seen those employment numbers, no one has ever done anything like this EVER) and will help our Dear Leader get re-elected (how could the greatest President of all time possibly be impeached, I mean did you see those job numbers and did you see how hot my daughter is?). Yeah,some unproductive old and sick people may die, but that will save us healthy folks young folks (our hot wives keep me and Secretary Munchie young) money down the line. We will be able to completely abolish all healthcare and cut everyone’s taxes in a few weeks.

  6. Gene is a disgusting sicko, who mocking American suffering, because of Trump. Gene, how do you live with yourself?

  7. I don’t understand why we need to shut down anything, really. I think everything should re-open 100% and resume as normal, and let this flu-virus run its natural course. Do any of you remember the Hong Kong Flu of the late 1960s? I do. We all got sick, we all felt really crummy, and then most of us improved and went on with our lives. Unfortunately, Mother Nature did what MN does and took those who were closest to death already.

    I say this tongue-in-cheek because my daughter flew in just last night London to Dulles, and reported to me that NO passengers were given a physical temperature screening upon arrival.

    Contradictory messages from our “leaders”.

  8. My thought with numerous airports in some cities (EWR,JFK,LGA – LAX,LGB,SNA,ONT) close some of the secondary airports until the loads improve.

  9. @Gary. On another topic that might interest you (because of your sometimes libertarian tendencies) I have been hearing a number pundits, talking about mandatory universal blood testing in certain areas, like New York, to determine who has the coronavirus. I do not believe the Federal Government should have the right to demand samples of everyone’s blood, despite the coronavirus. The potential for abuse is scary.

    9/11 is the way Americans got universal financial monitoring. Americans should not be “ok” with universal health monitoring, because of the coronavirus. Universal health monitoring is the next step in the surveillance society. What is your opinion?

  10. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black – demented OJS is now trying to whip up controversy by suggesting NY will mandate universal blood testing, which he probably read on some Dark Web site he frequents.

    Simply pathetic.

  11. You are incorrect about the CRAF program, it is an agreement between the Department of Defense and Department of Transportation to provide a/c to assist the DOD, not to fly rescue flights around the world for civilians that want to return to the United States. Get your facts straight, very poor reporting..

  12. Ojs can’t handle anyone bashing our great leader War President ” Ole Bone Spurs General Chump”. I pity Doctor Fauci having to stand behind Chump and listen to his nonsense. Chump the greatest President this country has ever known who won’t leave office until 32.

  13. @AJ – It’s not “an agreement between the Department of Defense and Department of Transportation” it’s an agreement with airlines to provide their fleets, that’s generally expected to be for a military crisis but the government could repurpose this.

  14. If an airline wants to shut down, let them. Might make sense for them. If they want to fly, let them fly. No need for government to get in the way. And definitely no need for free money bailouts. They had tons of cash that they pissed away so let them have loans to be repaid. They are planning on firing tens of thousands of people anyway. If one of them goes belly up, so be it. Eastern, PanAm, Western, TWA, Northwest, Continental and many others are no longer here. Others will come in their place.

    I feel terrible for the employees and staff of airlines. Bailouts should go to them not to the companies.

  15. @Rog – Trump is now jealous of our national treasure Fauci sadly, given how popular Fauci has become with his fact-based reasons and all (what a ooncept!)…don’t think we’ll be seeing him on the podium anymore. Which is probably better for us all – there’s no social distancing there, he’s 79 and probably working 80 hour weeks.

  16. Infestation of disgusting sickos here. Sort of like finding a gaggle of waterbugs under your bed.

  17. @OJS – care to support your assertion with, oh I don’t know, actual quotes or links or other documentation? Or are you just going to “feel good things” about your assertion, kind of the leader you worship so dear…

    (back into your dark web hole now)

  18. @UA-NYC (aka Manhattan Waterbug). Do I care to support my assertion that you are a disgusting sicko that is rooting for Americans to die, because might get rid of Trump. You document it every time you write. QED.

  19. Hey Gary, maybe this was implied but do you believe the airlines will still temporarily shutdown, even if they receive grants/loans? I think the loans have little restrictions (just short- term caps on exec comp) and the grants (free money) stipulate no furloughs for employees. That said they can still shutdown for a month and not furlough if Uncle Sam is paying the bill for their labor.

  20. Ryan: because Pres. Trump says something does not mean that it is true or that is going to happen or that he’s not going to change his mind. Surely you remember many cases of this? Not trying to be political, just trying to be realistic.

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