JetBlue cuts schedule to essential flights as coronavirus spreads

JetBlue Airways Airbus A320-200 aircraft as seen on final approach landing at New York John F. Kennedy International Airport in USA.

Nicola Economou | NurPhoto | Getty Images

JetBlue Airways¬†told employees Sunday that it plans to cancel hundreds of flights and operate less than half of its normal schedule this week, as it shrinks its operation to match diminished demand: passengers who “are flying because they must.”

U.S. airlines have been slashing their schedules as the coronavirus, and efforts to contain it, continue to sap travel demand.

Passenger and cargo carriers are seeking some $58 billion in government aid, half of it in cash grants and the other in loans. A vote on a massive stimulus bill aimed at combating the impact of the virus on the U.S. economy, which included only loans for airlines, failed in a procedural vote late Sunday.

The new reductions in JetBlue’s schedule come less than a week after it announced it would cut its flying by at least 40% in April and May as cancellations outpace bookings. U.S. airlines are struggling to manage the plunge in demand, halting hiring, parking thousands of jets and asking employees to take unpaid time off, among other measures.

The clip of cancellations and weak demand is forcing New York-based JetBlue to cancel nonessential flights on a rolling basis, president and COO Joanna Geraghty told employees Sunday in a note, which was reviewed by CNBC. She said reports about social distancing have prompted the question¬†“should we stop flying?” but she said that the airline will focus on the current demand.

“During this crisis, the need for travel remains, but the reasons for it have changed,” she said.

“Now, our Customers are flying because they must,” she said. “They need to get home, or they need to visit a loved one who is unwell, or they need to travel to support the response to this crisis. For all of these reasons, JetBlue must continue to fly, and we are able to do so because our industry, despite the financial pressure we are under, has been included in the government’s list of critical businesses needed to continue operations during these extraordinary times.”

She added: “You should expect we will be flying under half of our normal schedule in the coming days, and even less in April, but we will maintain an essential level of air service.”

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