In California, children cannot go to school, visit the playground, or play with friends. Nobody can eat in restaurants or hike many of the state’s most beautiful trails. Most people are told to stay at home.
Nevertheless, airports continue to work. Your employees were considered essential and exempted from the government’s order to stay at home.
This speaks for the power of aviation and how much governments value it. Airlines fly during wars. They fly just before and after natural disasters. They fly after terrorist attacks. You fly because flying means freedom in a networked world. If America closes airlines, citizens can lose the ability to fly anywhere in the country at any time.
However, these are not ordinary circumstances, even according to disaster standards. In a world where people are asked to stay six feet away from each other and at least two states try to restrict domestic visitors, there are few reasons to fly.
It’s time to temporarily shut down US passenger airlines. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday evening that airlines are preparing plans for a possible shutdown, but it is not clear when this will happen or whether it will. This should be a priority.
Regardless of whether the federal government requires it or not – the Trump administration appears to be criticizing a domestic flight ban, perhaps because a president calling for the private industry to run counter to American ideals – airlines should do the prudent and step down. Many airlines in Asia, Europe and the Middle East have largely closed, pushed or demanded from their governments.
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Yes, U.S. airlines, many of which have flown at 5 to 50 percent occupancy levels in recent weeks, have already reduced capacity and canceled poor-performing flights, some just before departure. Delta Air Lines announced last week that it would reduce system-wide capacity by 70 percent until demand returns. At the very least, check that Southwest Airlines only planned a 20 percent cut, but given the conditions, it could cut more.
However, that is not enough. The Lufthansa Group has reduced 95 percent of its capacity, while the International Airlines Group has reduced it by around 75 percent. In Asia, both Cathay Pacific and Singapore Air cut almost everything at the urging of the government. More airlines follow each day.
If U.S. airlines want to maintain multiple token routes or switch to on-the-fly freight, that’s fine. Anything beyond that seems irresponsible. I’m not a doctor or public health expert, but it seems strange that many governors and mayors tell Americans not to leave home except to get fresh air, food, or prescription medication, and yet the US airlines are flying still.
Despite all requests, five U.S. airlines planned to operate more than 20 flights between New York and Los Angeles airports on Tuesday to connect two regions where policymakers asked people to stay inside.
Is this the right strategy during a public health emergency?
Unfortunately, shutting down a US airline can have cascading effects. The most obvious are jobs. Depending on how the US Congress acts, workers can lose their jobs temporarily or permanently. Frontline airlines appear to be safe, but contractors may see more job losses. And let’s not forget people who rely on the airport’s economic engine, such as Lyft and Uber drivers, or people who work in terminal cafes and shops. On the other hand, many are already unemployed.
In practice, there is a reason why airlines may not be ready to close everything down: airlines are complex companies that are carefully monitored by security agencies. If conditions improve, an airline that is decommissioned may not restart as quickly as travelers want.
When an airline stops flying, cabin crew, pilots, and flight dispatchers may not meet the minimum standards as conditions improve. Airplanes also need to be flown to stay in the right shape. Therefore, it may take some time before the carriers are ready. (Late last year, when the Max was the biggest problem for airlines, Southwest said it would take 30 to 40 days for regulators to release the jet and the airline to fly it.)
As more cities, states, and businesses take coronavirus mitigation seriously, it’s hard to understand how U.S. airlines can keep flying.
The airlines will return. Travel is too important for American society, and the government won’t let the biggest airlines fail. But let’s take a break and try to smooth the curve.
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