MIAMI – As travel restrictions increased during March, several US airlines have cut 96% of their flights, drastically reducing airport operations and passenger traffic.

Just to get a better picture, the number of passengers at checkpoints is the lowest registered in 10 years, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as US carriers have halted 71% of their capacity (A4A).

TSA and A4A statistics

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the US commercial aviation industry had 111,000 daily flights, now reduced to 31,000 during the last weeks, according to Airlines For America (A4A). As demand and air operations dropped, airlines parked 1,800 planes, which represents 30% of their fleets.

Regarding passenger demand statistics, A4A also said that for domestic flights, only one in every 10 seats is occupied while for international flights just one in five seats is purchased.

TSA checkpoint traveler throughput. Courtesy: A4A,

Airlines’ plunge in flights

During March, United Airlines (UA) was the first carrier to cut domestic flights by 10% and international routes by 20% throughout April. In all, travel restrictions extended international reduction to 95%.

American Airlines (AA) also announced cancellations of 55% for its summer trans-Pacific routes and 7.5% for its April domestic flights while Delta Air Lines (DL) reduced 40% of its flights until further notice.

In addition, Alaska (AS) first cut its capacity by 15% and later, increased it to 80% due to travel restrictions. On its part, Southwest Airlines (WN) suspended 20% of its capacity.

However, due to the worldwide quarantine extensions and travel restrictions, at the end of the month halted operations across the US quickly escalated, with 9,000 domestic flights canceled and only 1,000 actual flights per day, according to FlightStats.

By that time, DL canceled over 1,600 daily flights, AA cut 1,200, WN halted 1,500, UA suspended 900 and AS reduced 200.

An empty Chicago O’Hare International Airport

Airports’ negative numbers

In March, statistics went down at eight US airports in comparison with the same period last year, according to Flightradar24.

To start, Chicago O’Hare International (ORD) went from 1,300 departing flights to only 648 while Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International (ATL) fell from 1,279 to 561.

In addition, Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW) and Los Angeles International (LAX) dropped from 1,000 departures to 500 and to less than that, respectively.

In New York, John F. Kennedy International (JFK) plunged from 603 to 219 while Newark Liberty International (EWR) and LaGuardia (LGA) followed suit from 600 flights to less than 200.

At the 200-flight ranks, New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International (MSY) declined from 208 to just 92.

So far in April, the overall cut in capacity has increment because airports have been shutting down or closing some of their terminals following updated US travel guidelines.

In light of New York’s COVID-19 concerns, John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Newark (EWR) airports reduced open hours, so several carriers cut operations there and also at LaGuardia airport (LGA).

Consequently, Spirit Airlines (NK) reduced 200 flights to 40 while AA halted 90% of its flights until the first week of May. On its part, JetBlue (B6) canceled its capacity by 80% and announced a further increase of its reduction during April, May and June by 40%.

Also UA cut 139 daily flights to only 15 at EWR and 18 to two daily flights LGA throughout April. In addition, DL reduced schedule in the area during the month.

A similar situation happened at the Bay Area international airports in March, including Oakland (OAK), San Francisco (SFO) and San Jose (SJC). As a result of major carriers’ cancellations there, SFO registered 790 suspended flights while SJC had suspensions of over 200 and OAK, 150.

Furthermore, as larger airfields such as Ontario International (ONT) and McCarran International (LAS) have already suspended some services, smaller airports are also shutting services day by day.

Alas, with the just-published CARES Act, larger hubs are now giving minimum service priority to major airports at the expense of local ones.

Demand for future U.S.-related air travel. Courtesy: A4A,

What to expect in the near-future

By now, the COVID-19 concerns in the US are high. It is no surprise then that more travel guidelines to avoid non-essential flights could come to other areas and airports across the country, bringing further down passenger traffic and airline operations to as yet unknown and unprecedented levels.

As we come to the end of the second week of April, we still forecast harder times for airlines and airports worldwide not only in the coming weeks but for the whole of Q2.

Stay tuned for the latest developments as Airways continues to report on the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic on the commercial aviation industry.