American Airlines will drop flights to 15 cities in October

AP – American Airlines will drop flights to 15 smaller United States (US) cities in October when a federal requirement to serve those communities ends. The airline blamed low demand during the coronavirus pandemic, which has triggered a massive slump in air travel. Airlines and their labour unions are seeking billions in taxpayer relief.

American said its schedule covering October 7 through November 3 will drop flights to cities including Sioux City, Iowa; New Haven, Connecticut; and Springfield, Illinois.

“This is the first step as American continues to evaluate its network and plans for additional schedule changes in the coming weeks,” the airline said in a prepared statement. A massive pandemic-relief measure approved in March set aside up to USD50 billion in cash and low-interest loans for the nation’s passenger airlines. American was the largest recipient — USD10.7 billion if a pending loan wins final approval from the US Treasury Department.

In return for taxpayer dollars, airlines were barred from furloughing workers and were required, in most cases, to continue serving destinations they had before the pandemic. Both of those conditions expire September 30.

Passenger airlines and their labour unions are lobbying for an additional USD25 billion to keep paying workers and avoid furloughs through next March. Cargo airlines and contractors would get USD7 billion.

The push by airlines and labour has received significant support in Washington. A majority of the Democratic-controlled House endorsed the additional money, so did 16 Senate Republicans. US President Donald Trump spoke favourably about helping the airlines when asked about the proposal. However, the provision is wrapped up in discussions over a larger virus-relief package that would include extended unemployment benefits and, Democrats hope, aid to cities and state governments. The fate of that measure is unclear after negotiations between congressional Democrats and the White House broke down more than a week ago.

An American Airlines executive cited the stalemate in Washington for the airline’s decision to cut service to some destinations, before they were announced yesterday.

“We have been holding off, hoping that we would come to some sort of agreement that would extend (the payroll money) and would extend the service requirement. That broader negotiation does seem to be stalled, and this is an unfortunate casualty of that,” said
the executive.

A man walks from the American Airlines ticket counter in Salt Lake City. PHOTO: AP