By Tracy Rucinski
(Reuters) – When Reuters photographer Carlos Barria boarded American Airlines flight 4511 from Washington Reagan National Airport to New Orleans on Friday, he was the only passenger in the 76-seat jet.
“There were some uncomfortable moments,” said Barria.
For example, when the gate agent announced a formal boarding process just to remember that Barria was the only passenger who would board, or when the pilot approached his seat to personally delay the takeoff due to a mechanical problem explain instead of talking about the PA system.
The two flight attendants invited Barria to sit in a first-class seat and went through the security demonstration for Barria alone.
“I felt like I had to be careful,” he said.
Almost free flights have become the norm for U.S. airlines, although the number of airplanes they take up every day has dropped dramatically as passenger traffic in the midst of new coronavirus countries around the world has decreased.
American Airlines Group Inc flew 119 flights from Washington Reagan National on Friday; Eight of these departures had only one passenger (including Barrias) and many only had a handful, an American official said. The same day last year, American operated 254 flights from the same airport.
“Pretty soon, we’re going to run out of people who can cancel US airlines,” Vasu Raja, senior vice president of network strategy at American, told Reuters on Thursday.
The U.S. Transportation Safety Agency (TSA) examined 129,763 travelers on Friday, up from 2.48 million the same day a year ago. This is evident from the daily data that she provides on her website.
U.S. airlines, which say they use cash every day, have applied for state aid to help them meet pay slips and ensure that they have trained staff when the health crisis resolves and resolves demand is recovering.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 277,205 cases of the new coronavirus on Saturday, up 37,926 cases from the previous count, and said the number of deaths increased by 1,150 to 6,593.
Flight attendants continue to work, although some Reuters say they fear they will contract the virus and infect vulnerable families at home.
One of the flight attendants on Barria’s flight said she was flying from New Orleans to her hometown of Miami, where she was supposed to take her father for cancer treatment after her four-day rotation that slept in hotels every night.
“Our elected officials want us to continue to ensure safe air traffic in this crisis. We need to keep flying as we please and serve those who need to travel,” said Doug Parker, chief executive officer, in a video message last week.
To protect passengers and crew, airlines have cut back on the beverage and snack service, improved cabin cleaning procedures, and made it possible for flight attendants to wear gloves even though they haven’t been given masks.
At the end of Barria’s flight, he felt camaraderie with the crew. “I thanked you for what you do and you thanked me for what I do,” he said.
(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; additional reporting by Maria Caspani; editing by Diane Craft)