JetBlue has asked the federal government for permission to suspend all service to Tampa International and 15 other airports to deal with what it calls the “near zero demand for air travel caused by the coronoavirus pandemic.”
In a request filed Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Transportation, New York-based JetBlue said U.S. airlines are now averaging just 12 passengers per domestic flight.
The airline asked to suspend service to the 16 cities through Sept. 20 in order to avoid layoffs among its 23,000 employees, but said it will monitor market conditions to determine a date for resuming the flights.
Delta and Spirit airlines also have applied to the Transportation Department for approval to suspend flights at some of the airports they serve.
Tampa International listed eight JetBlue arriving flights and seven departures for Friday but it wasn’t clear how many of them would fly.
JetBlue described the 16 airports as large hub service points and provided detailed explanations of challenges it faces at each one.
In Tampa, the airline reduced April service from a peak of over 12 flights per day to as few as 1 but still reported averaging just 15 percent of capacity per flight. “The service is not sustainable for JetBlue to operate at current demand levels,” the airline said.
The airline serves nearly 80 U.S. destinations, according to its website.
JetBlue is seeking an exemption from some obligations of the CARES Act, which provided airlines nearly $25 billion in grants and another $25 billion in loans to help them through the coronavirus pandemic. The airline seeks immediate approval for the suspensions without a required 10-day advance notice and notes that federal officials had approved other exemptions earlier.
The airline’s justification for the service suspension spells out how far business has fallen off for the industry. Airline passenger volumes in the United States have declined 97 percent as of April 19, for example, the Transportation Security Administration is processing about 100,000 travelers daily compared to 2.3 million a day a year ago, and three U.S. airlines have already ceased operations — Trans States, Compass and RavnAir Group.
Passengers with tickets to fly from some of there 16 cities might be able to switch to Alaska Airlines or American Airlines under an agreement JetBlue has reached with the two airlines, according to the exemption request. Tampa is not one of the cities. JetBlue also has requested agreements with other major U.S. carriers.
Here are the 16 airports where JetBlue proposes suspending service: Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International, Charlotte Douglas International, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Denver International Airport, Detroit Metro Airport, George Bush Intercontinental in Houston, McCarran International in Las Vegas, Minneapolis-St. Paul International, Nashville International, Philadelphia International, Phoenix Sky Harbor, Portland International, San Diego International, Seattle-Tacoma International and Tampa International.
Delta proposes suspending service at nine U.S. airports including Melbourne, saying all were chosen because they are within an hour’s drive from other airports the airline serves. They are Hilton Head, S.C.; Lansing and Flint, Mich.; Pocatello, Idaho; Peoria, Ill.; Kalamazoo, Mich.; Brunswick, Ga.; Worcester, Mass.; Melbourne.
Spirit proposes suspending service in six locations — Charlotte, N.C.; Denver; Minneapolis/St. Paul; and Phoenix.
St. Pete-Clearwater airport enhances safety
On Friday, St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport outlined health and safety protocols being put in place in advance of passengers and flights ramping back up. The measures are similar to those announced at Tampa International Airport this week and include:
• Arriving at least two hours before your flight. Allegiant, the dominant airline at the airport, opens its ticket counters only when flights are operating, but posts updates to allegiantair.com/travel-advisory-more-info.
• People picking up passengers should use the cell phone parking lot and not go inside the terminal. Long-term parking is open. Customers needing to pick up a car from the economy lots, which are closed, can get a ride from United Taxi with free vouchers provided by the airport. More information is posted in the baggage claim area.
• The airport has increased sanitizing operations for all hard surfaces and high-touch areas and installed more hand sanitizing stations and plexiglass shields at work stations. Passengers should cover their faces while in the terminal and follow social distancing instructions and seating restrictions posted in the terminal.
Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report.
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