Editor’s Note: This post will be regularly updated with the latest news and updates on the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on travel. Scroll down or click for previous updates and stay tuned for additional coverage.
- United Warns it May Lay Off Up to 36,000 Workers
- Aeromexico Joins Ranks of Airlines Filing for Bankruptcy
- Airline Unions Ask Congress for Another $32B Bailout
- European Union May Block U.S. Travelers
- Delta Will Resume Flights to China this Week
- American Bans GOP Activist Who Refused to Wear Mask
- ANA Has an Ingenious Way to Board Planes During Coronavirus
- China Cancels Flights Amid Second Coronavirus Outbreak
- Delta Aims to Restart Flights to Athens, Lisbon in July
- Southwest Will Block Middle Seats through the Summer
United Warns it May Lay Off Up to 36,000 Workers
Wednesday, July 8 at 11:30 a.m.
United Airlines plans to send layoff warning notices to as many as 36,000 employees, an eye-popping number that may soon become commonplace as airlines are forced to drastically shrink to survive the coronavirus downturn.
Congress passed a $50 billion bailout package of payroll grants and loans to keep airlines afloat and retain employees until October. But airlines concede that they’ll need to get smaller after that funding runs out.
Skift reports that United will soon issue layoff notices to 15,000 flight attendants, 11,000 customer service agents and gate agents, 5,500 maintenance employees, and 2,250 pilots, among others. U.S. labor laws require companies to warn employees of mass layoffs at least 60 days in advance, but the numbers may change
“The reality is that United simply cannot continue at our current payroll level past Oct. 1 in an environment where travel demand is so depressed,” the Chicago-based airline told employees on Wednesday.
While the layoffs at United alone are massive, they are just the tip of the iceberg of a storm coming for the travel industry in the U.S. and abroad.
Despite a steady uptick since April, air travel remains down by nearly 70% or more. And airlines have sounded alarm bells that even that modest recovery has taken a turn for the worse as coronavirus case counts climb throughout the U.S.
With travel demand down and a return to normal many years off, airlines simply can’t afford to be as large as they were a year ago. And that means layoffs. United is just the first to put a number on them.
Late last month, several major aviation unions asked Congress to pass another multi-billion dollar financial rescue package to forestall layoffs. But it’s unclear whether there’s the political appetite in Washington, D.C. to give airlines another bailout.
Read all our coverage of traveling and the coronavirus.
Aeromexico Joins Ranks of Airlines Filing for Bankruptcy
Wednesday, July 1 at 7:30 a.m.
Aeromexico announced Tuesday evening it had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protections, becoming just the latest carrier to enter bankruptcy during a coronavirus pandemic that has turned airlines upside down.
Mexico’s flag carrier said filing for bankruptcy won’t disrupt customers. All tickets, reservations, vouchers, and miles in its Premier Points program are still valid, according to Reuters. And the airline is still planning ramp up its flight schedule in July despite the bankruptcy proceedings.
That underscores an important point: Just because an airline enters bankruptcy doesn’t mean it’s going out of business. Unlike chapter seven bankruptcy proceedings that lead to liquidation, Aeromexico’s chapter 11 bankruptcy is for corporate restructuring.
And those bankruptcy filings have become commonplace during coronavirus – especially in Latin America, where governments have resisted bailing out struggling airlines. Both LATAM and Avianca, the two largest carriers in the region, entered bankruptcy earlier in the spring.
Aeromexico is also just the latest foreign airline in Delta’s portfolio to enter bankruptcy. Delta owns 49% of Aeromexico and roughly 20% of LATAM.
Airline Unions Ask Congress for Another $32B Bailout
Friday, June 26 at 7:45 a.m.
Several major unions representing pilots, flight attendants and other airline workers have asked Congress to pass another financial rescue package for the airline industry, saying it’s necessary to avoid massive layoffs.
Congress passed the CARES Act in late March, including $32 billion in grants for airlines (plus more in loans) to help them cover payroll through September. With travel demand still far down, U.S. carriers have repeatedly warned they’ll be forced to lay off employees come Oct. 1 without additional financial help.
Six major aviation unions sent a letter to top lawmakers this week asking for another $32 billion package to keep airline employees on the job through March 2021, Reuters reports.
“Should Oct. 1 arrive without extending the PSP grant job program mass layoffs are inevitable, as airline executives have acknowledged,” leaders from the unions wrote.
That request comes as Congressional leaders begin assembling another federal stimulus package. It’s unclear if Congress will have the political appetite for another massive bailout for the industry. Top airline executives were scheduled to meet with Vice President Mike Pence Friday afternoon, Reuters reports.
Airlines have focused on cutting their costs, raising money, and trying to shrink by offering voluntary retirement and early departure packages to employees. Still, they say those efforts won’t be enough to avoid layoffs until travel demand recovers.
European Union May Block U.S. Travelers
Tuesday, June 23 at 1:30 p.m.
Countries throughout Europe are poised to reopen to international travel starting in July – but that may leave travelers from the United States out.
European Union officials are preparing to ban U.S. travelers from entering Europe even after international travel restrictions lift July 1, the New York Times reports. The Times obtained drafted lists of countries that would be allowed to enter Europe – leaving out countries still struggling with coronavirus outbreaks.
And that includes the U.S., now the epicenter of the world’s worst outbreak where coronavirus case counts are still climbing – more than 2.3 million cases and 120,000 deaths had been recorded as of Tuesday afternoon. Brazil and Russia would also be banned.
Those lists have not yet been finalized, and European officials plan to revisit them every two weeks after the new travel restrictions take effect July 1. But it adds to the unpredictable future of international travel – especially for U.S.-based travelers.
And it gets even more complicated: Just because the European Commission votes to block travelers from the U.S. doesn’t mean every country throughout Europe will do so.
The European Commission merely passes recommendations to member countries. Countries can still choose to reopen travel how they see fit, facing potential consequences for moving ahead without following the recommendations.
Some countries throughout Europe including Iceland, Greece, and Portugal had planned to open even to U.S. travelers as soon as July 1. It’s unclear whether any of them may decide to forge ahead with those plans or continue blocking travel to and from the U.S.
Delta Will Resume Flights to China this Week
Monday, June 22 at 9:45 a.m.
Delta Air Lines is set to resume flights to China on Thursday, June 25, the first American carrier to return to China after all U.S. airlines halted service to the country in late January.
The airline will fly from Seattle (SEA) to Shanghai-Pudong (PVG) twice a week until July, when Delta will start flying once a week to Shanghai from both Seattle and Detroit (DTW). But these flights won’t be nonstop.
Instead, they’ll make a stop in Seoul-Incheon (ICN) each way across the Pacific Ocean. That will allow Delta crews to overnight in South Korea rather than China.
Delta will initially fly its Airbus A350-900 from Seattle before swapping in a new Airbus A330-900neo on the route. The A350 will fly from Detroit to Shanghai and back.
The resumption of flights to China comes amid fears of a second outbreak of the virus in Beijing.
U.S. airlines fought with Chinese regulators for weeks over the right to restart service to the country. The Chinese government eventually relented and allowed a few weekly flights after the Trump administration threatened to block Chinese airlines from flying to the U.S.
American Bans GOP Activist Who Refused to Wear Mask
Friday, June 19 at 8 a.m.
American Airlines has temporarily banned a Republican activist who went viral earlier this week after being kicked off a flight for refusing to wear a mask, living up to its promise to step up enforcement of mask requirements in-flight.
American said Thursday that the passenger, Brandon Straka, will be banned for as long as the airline’s mask requirements are in place. It’s believed to be the first such ban since U.S. airlines announced this week they’d step up enforcement of their mask policies by threatening to place offenders on internal do-not-fly lists.
“We expect customers who choose to fly with us to comply with these policies, and if necessary, we will deny future travel for customers who refuse to do so,” the airline said in a statement to ABC News.
Unlike other countries, there’s no federal law or rule in the U.S. requiring masks on planes or in airports. But airlines are free to set their own rules for passengers who buy tickets with their businesses, and they’ve done so.
Straka, a vocal Republican activist, tried to make an example of himself by refusing to follow American’s policies – filming himself while doing so. He boarded a flight from New York City-LaGuardia (LGA) to Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) on Wednesday, the day after American’s stronger mask rules took effect.
His video and other videos of the incident show Straka refusing to comply with a flight attendant’s request to wear a mask, saying “that’s not a law” and suggesting he might have a medical condition that exempts him from the mask rule. He eventually left the plane upon the flight attendant’s orders and filmed his reaction.
“This is insane. Absolutely insane,” Straka said in his video on Periscope. “We don’t even have a choice anymore.”
Straka did have a choice: He could have driven instead. He chose to fly with an airline that requires travelers to wear masks.
Straka founded the #WalkAwayCampaign, which encourages voters to leave the Democratic party. His website sells face masks for $20 each.
ANA Has an Ingenious Way to Board Planes During Coronavirus
Thursday, June 18 at 7:30 a.m.
Japanese airline All Nippon Airways (ANA) is implementing a new boarding process to limit customer contact – and it goes much farther than simply boarding the plane from back-to-front.
Starting Friday, June 19, ANA will do away with priority boarding and instead board each international and domestic flight within Japan in six distinct groups:
- Group 1: Passengers with rear window seats
- Group 2: Passengers with rear middle seats
- Group 3: Passengers with rear aisle seats
- Group 4: Passengers with front window seats
- Group 5: Passengers with front middle seats
- Group 6: Passengers with front aisle seats
That’s far more involved than how most airlines board their aircraft, but Japanese airlines are renowned for their efficient and smart boarding processes. And this new method is perhaps the best way we’ve seen to limit the potential spread of coronavirus between customers.
Airlines across the globe have switched up their practices, from cleaning between flights to limiting in-flight service to how they board aircraft. Delta has begun boarding the plane from back to front. Southwest Airlines is boarding in groups of 10 passengers or less.
China Cancels Flights Amid Second Coronavirus Outbreak
Wednesday, June 17 at 7:45 a.m.
More than two-thirds of the flights in and out of Beijing’s airports were canceled Wednesday as China grapples with a second outbreak of the coronavirus.
Officials in China said the situation in Beijing is “extremely grave,” The Associated Press reports.
The virus believed to have originated in China late last year has now infected nearly 8.2 million people worldwide, killing more than 440,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
China declared victory over coronavirus in March as infection rates dwindled. But as countries across the globe slowly reopen and travel begins to resume, the situation in China could provide a cautionary tale to prepare for a second wave – or, in the United States, to continue fighting the first.
China raised its emergency warning from a 3 to a 2 – the second-highest level – as new cases mount in and around Beijing. The capital city has recorded 137 new cases since last week, leading city leaders to reimpose lockdown measures to control the spread of the virus.
More than 1,200 flights in and out of Beijing-Capital (PEK) and Beijing-Daxing (PKX) airports were canceled Wednesday morning local time.
Delta Aims to Restart Flights to Athens, Lisbon in July
Tuesday, June 16 at 8:45 a.m.
Delta Air Lines is hoping to resume its flights from New York City (JFK) to both Lisbon (LIS) and Athens (ATH) next month, two European vacation destinations that seem poised to allow U.S. travelers sooner rather than later.
Both flights to Portugal and Greece were cut this spring as airlines shrunk into survival mode and dealt with travel bans across the world. But with travel starting to ramp back up, Delta and other airlines are cautiously eyeing where they can resume service over the typically busy summer travel season.
Published flight schedules show Delta will resume flying to Athens and Lisbon on July 16. The airline says that date will hinge on whether travel restrictions lift. Most of Europe still bans travelers from abroad from entering, but countries are making individually plans to reopen to outside travelers.
Greece and Portugal are among the safest bets for international travel this year. Both countries currently plan to open to all travelers – including those from the U.S. – as soon as July 1.
If Delta’s flights move ahead, they’ll be some of the first relaunched routes (on any carrier) into Europe outside the core metropolitan cities of London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Frankfurt.
Southwest Will Block Middle Seats through the Summer
Monday, June 15 at 8:30 a.m.
Southwest is committing to keeping middle seats empty on its planes through Sept. 30 by capping ticket sales to 67% on each flight.
Southwest had previously committed to giving passengers more space just through June. The airline announced an extension Monday, meaning it will have more space for flyers on its planes all the way through the summer travel season.
It’s a familiar script for airlines trying to weather the drastic drop in travel demand. Delta has also committed to blocking middle seats, and previously announced it would do so all the way through Sept. 30. JetBlue is doing the same through June.
These airlines are betting that giving customers more space and peace of mind will be key to convince travelers to come back.
But Southwest does it a bit differently. Unlike most major airlines, Southwest doesn’t actually assign seats on its flight, instead allowing passengers to pick their seats as they board on a first-come, first-served basis.
So this policy simply caps ticket sales on flights at 67% of capacity. That means groups of travelers can choose to sit next to each other or easily spread out from their nearest neighbor.
Southwest is also boarding planes in groups of just 10 to increase distancing.