Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson sees 85% decline in passenger traffic

A United Airlines ticket agent at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Friday, March 13, 2020 had a slow morning as the coronavirus pandemic apparently affected travel. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
A United Airlines ticket agent at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Friday, March 13, 2020 had a slow morning as the coronavirus pandemic apparently affected travel. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Revenue could be down 50% or 60%, says airport’s general manager

Hartsfield-Jackson International has seen an 85% decline in passengers, while revenue at the Atlanta airport could be down by 50% or more, according to the airport's top official.

The airport normally has 2,600 flights a day, but that's down to 1,200 a day, and "those flights are mostly empty" because of the coronavirus pandemic, said John Selden, general manager at Hartsfield-Jackson.

He told the Atlanta city council transportation committee during a briefing Wednesday that there are normally 300,000 to 320,000 passengers passing through the world's busiest airport each day, including those with connecting flights.

But Tuesday that was down to about 60,000 passengers, according to Selden.

Delta Air Lines , the dominant carrier at the airport, is slashing 70% of its flights and parking at least half its fleet and still bleeding $50 million in cash a day.

Flights between Atlanta and Europe are mainly ferrying U.S. citizens home, and those are likely to stop eventually as well, Selden said.

Taxi rides and Uber and Lyft rides from the airport are also down precipitously, and airport parking lots are mostly empty.

It’s having a “significant impact to our revenue streams at the airport,” said Selden, who estimated the airport’s revenue may be down 50%-60%.

Selden said the airport has “excellent liquidity,” but added that it is “making adjustments, or contemplating making adjustments to mitigate our burn rate every day.”

Airport lobbyists have also been pushing for $10 billion in aid for airports nationwide through the federal coronavirus stimulus bill. Lawmakers continued discussions Wednesday on a $2 trillion fiscal emergency bill for the U.S. economy.

Delta leases about 150 gates at Hartsfield-Jackson, but is shrinking its operations at the Atlanta airport and will stop using gates on some of the concourses. That will also cut into business for concessions on those concourses.

While some are worried about whether there will be a shutdown of flights around the country, Selden said “at this time we have no indication of that happening, especially here at Hartsfield-Jackson, which is a major hub for Delta Air Lines.”

He added that the cargo business at the airport is growing rapidly. Delta has started using some of its passenger planes for chartered cargo flights.

“We will always keep the airport open for that purpose,” Selden said.

He also said that since the airport receives funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, there are FAA requirements to keep the airport open and functioning.

The airport manager said there are still hundreds of homeless people spending the night in the airport's domestic terminal during poor weather. That included earlier this week amid rainy weather, when there were 300 homeless people in the terminal overnight.

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