May 23, 2020 / 12:00 AM / 6 days ago

U.S. grants tentative OK for 15 air carriers to suspend service to 75 airports

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department said late on Friday it had granted tentative approval to 15 airlines to temporarily halt service to 75 U.S. airports because of the coronavirus pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: Delta Air Lines passenger planes are seen parked due to flight reductions made to slow the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S. March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

Airlines must maintain minimum service levels in order to receive government assistance but many have petitioned to stop service to airports with low passenger demand.

Both United Airlines (UAL.O) and Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) won tentative approval to halt flights to 11 airports, while JetBlue Airways Corp (JBLU.O), Alaska Airlines (ALK.N) and Frontier Airlines were approved to stop flights to five airports each. The department said all airports would continue to be served by at least one air carrier.

The Transportation Department said objections to the order can be filed until May 28.

U.S. air carriers are collectively burning through more than $10 billion in cash a month as travel demand remains a fraction of prior levels, even though it has rebounded slightly in recent weeks. They have parked more than half of their planes and cut thousands of flights.

The department has previously granted airlines waivers to cancel some additional flights and denied others. On May 12, the department said it would allow carriers to halt flights to up to 5% of required destinations.

Under the tentative order, Delta can halt service to Aspen, Colorado; Bangor, Maine; Flint, Michigan; Santa Barbara, California; and Lincoln, Nebraska, among other cities, while United can halt service to airports including Chattanooga, Tennessee; Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Key West, Florida; and Lansing and Kalamazoo, Michigan.

JetBlue can halt flights to Albuquerque, New Mexico;

Palm Springs and Sacramento, California; Sarasota, Florida; and Worcester, Massachusetts.

Alaska can suspend flights to Charleston, South Carolina;

Columbus, Ohio; El Paso and San Antonio, Texas; and New Orleans.

Only half of eligible carriers have applied to cut more flights.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and Sonya Hepinstall

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