Coronavirus Outbreak is Emptying US Airports as Industry Faces Cash Crunch

Lone passengers board a flight in Miami on Friday. Credit: A. Papapostolou/Greek Reporter

The global airline industry faces a cash crunch as travel demand has virtually collapsed following the spread of coronavirus, with airlines forced to cancel flights, ground planes, and suspend routes.

The International Air Transport Association on Tuesday said the sector will need up to $200bn in emergency support as the travel industry bleeds cash in the face of a global lockdown.

The airlines’ main trade body has warned that the majority of carriers face running out of money within two months because of the sudden halt in international flights by governments attempting to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Airports, which often exist as private-public partnerships, have seen passenger traffic plummet. The facilities are expensive to operate, and rely on income from a variety of sources, including sales from retailers in terminal buildings — the store and airport often have an agreement on revenue sharing as part of the store’s lease — fees charged to airlines for each plane that lands, which is often a bundled fee in the ticket price, and government funding for essential infrastructure.

That means that a decrease in foot traffic and flights could dry up airlines’ revenue sources.

Few passengers, some wearing masks, on a flight out of Miami on Friday. Credit: A. Papapostolou/Greek Reporter

Business Insider reports that airports have seen traffic drop about 12.8 percent in the US from February 13 to March 13. However, many major markets have seen traffic declines worse than the national average.

For instance, foot traffic in Seattle airports — the worst-hit market — declined 27.2 percent during the month ending March 13. Airports in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose was down just shy of a quarter. Foot traffic in New York airports was down 22.1 percent, while traffic in Los Angeles was down 15.4 percent.

While the drop is significant, it is likely that it will get worse. Airlines are continuing to cancel flights, and new restrictions on travel are being added every day.

Grounded planes at the Miami international airport on Friday. Credit: Anastasios Papapostolou / Greek Reporter

On Mar. 11, the U.S. banned the entry of foreign nationals arriving from China, Iran and the Schengen Area of 26 European countries – Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

As of Tuesday (March 17), federal travel restrictions were expanded to include foreign nationals departing from the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, affecting a total of 20 routes, which are: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Dublin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Lisbon, London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Madrid, Milan, Munich, Oslo, Paris (CDG), Paris (Orly), Rome, Stockholm, Warsaw and Zurich.

Greek Reporter‘s Anastasios Papapostolou captured the scene at Miami’s International Airport earlier on Friday.

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