American Airlines has announced plans to suspend flights to 15 cities, citing low demand amid the pandemic and the expiration of air service requirements that were a condition of the company receiving billions in COVID-19 relief aid.
The suspensions go into effect in early October, the company said in a statement, adding that the move is the first step towards further schedule changes “in the coming weeks.”
The CARES Act gave federal transportation authorities the power to impose minimum air service requirements on airlines, with the Department of Transportation (DOT) setting service obligations through Sept. 30. As those expire, airlines receiving COVID-19 aid are sure to evaluate maintaining routes, particularly loss-making ones as the pandemic has slashed demand for travel.
“The airline will continue to re-assess plans for these and other markets as an extension of the Payroll Support Program remains under deliberation,” American said in the statement.
The CARES Act’s Payroll Support Program set aside $25 billion in grants to U.S. airlines, strictly for employee compensation. Under the program, American received $5.8 billion in payroll assistance.
Congress has been weighing for weeks whether to give another $25 billion in payroll assistance to airlines, which would keep tens of thousands of airline workers on the job for another six months and extend minimum service requirements. But as Congress has struggled to reach consensus on a broader CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus assistance package, the debate over assistance to airlines has stalled.
Several airlines have privately warned lawmakers they would be forced to suspend service to some smaller airports unless they receive more aid.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday expressed doubts that Republicans and Democrats would be able to break the deadlock over the fifth relief bill.
The U.S. Travel Association has called for lawmakers to reach a deal to help protect jobs in the hospitality and travel industry, one of the hardest hit by the pandemic.
“It is crucial that leaders in Washington return to the negotiating table immediately and continue the important work they started,” said U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes, in a statement. “Since March, more than half of the 15.8 million pre-pandemic jobs supported by the travel industry have disappeared, leaving workers and small businesses in every pocket of America vulnerable to the economic pain of this public health crisis.”
In its announcement, American said it will cancel just over 700 flights to and from those 15 airports, warning that more cuts could be on the horizon. For now, American’s scheduling changes are only in place for the October schedule period, which runs through Nov. 3, with the full, updated October schedule to be released on Aug. 29.
Starting Oct. 7, American will halt flights to Del Rio, Texas; Dubuque, Iowa; Florence, South Carolina; Greenville, North Carolina; Huntington, West Virginia; Joplin, Missouri; Kalamazoo-Battle Creek, Michigan; Lake Charles, Louisiana; New Haven, Connecticut; New Windsor, New York; Roswell, New Mexico; Sioux City, Iowa; Springfield, Illinois; Stillwater, Oklahoma, and Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
The COVID-19 crisis has decimated the U.S. labor market, with unemployment at 10.2 percent and around 1 million Americans continuing to file for unemployment each week.