Delta Air Lines and JetBlue Airways are seeking federal approval to halt service to some airports in Georgia and other cities around the country.
Overall, air travel has dropped to about 5% of typical levels.
But the carriers are in the unusual position of having to seek an exemption to stop flying to an airport because they accepted billions in federal stimulus funding for airlines through the CARES Act, which requires they maintain a minimum level of service to U.S. airports on their route maps through Sept. 30.
JetBlue is asking for an exemption from the U.S. Department of Transportation to allow it to suspend service to Atlanta and 15 other major airports.
The New York-based airline has flown to Atlanta since 2017 and launched routes to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport from Boston, New York, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.
But in April, JetBlue said it cut back its Atlanta schedule from 10 flights a day to less than two flights a day. The Atlanta-Boston route had only eight customers in one direction and four customers in the other direction April 20, according to JetBlue, which told the DOT the service “is not sustainable.”
U.S. airlines are averaging 12 passengers per domestic flight, according to JetBlue.
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, which is a global carrier, but has a heavy concentration of flights to airports large and small throughout the South, is seeking an exemption from the DOT to suspend service to Brunswick; Hilton Head, S.C.; and Melbourne, Fla.
Delta also wants to suspend flights to several other small airports around the country, including Pocatello, Idaho; Peoria, Ill.; Worcester, Mass.; and Kalamazoo, Lansing and Flint, Mich.
On the flights to and from Worcester, for example, Delta said it is carrying only one passenger per day each way.
The airline told the DOT in a filing this week that it “recognizes that the grant of this exemption may result in inconvenience to some members of the traveling public who will need to drive further to access Delta’s air transportation network.”
But it said the inconvenience “is outweighed by the public health and safety of the employees that Delta is trying to protect.
The airline also said travelers can use nearby airports within about an hour’s drive as an alternative, such as Jacksonville instead of Brunswick; Savannah instead of Hilton Head; and Orlando instead of Melbourne.
The DOT has set up a process to “adjudicate requests swiftly.”
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