Airlines gradually add back flights to Atlanta

Airlines are gradually adding flights back to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Delta Air Lines, the dominant carrier at the Atlanta airport, grounded hundreds of planes as travel plummeted due to the coronavirus pandemic in March and April. It brought 16 planes back into service for June and expects to bring 74 back for its flights in July.

However, Delta said more than half of its fleet remains idled, and "these moves represent very small, modest capacity" additions on an extremely small base.

Atlanta-based Delta is restarting a number of international routes from Atlanta in June, including to Cancun and Jamaica.

The airline said it will add nearly 1,000 more flights in July, including weekly flights from Atlanta to Seoul and service from Atlanta to Sao Paulo. It plans to add flights from Atlanta to Lagos, Nigeria pending government approval.

Delta plans to start flights to Shanghai via Seoul. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it was notified that U.S. carriers have been approved to fly 4 weekly flights to China, allowing the resumption of passenger service between the United States and China.

Delta said Monday it will fly to Shanghai twice next week from Seattle via Seoul. Then in July it will fly to Shanghai via Seoul once a week from Seattle and once a week from Detroit.

“We are pleased to be reentering the China market and are grateful to the U.S. government for its diligent efforts to ensure fair access to China for U.S. carriers,” Delta said in a written statement.

The airline is also adding more domestic flights and putting larger planes and more flights on routes with growing demand.

Spirit Airlines, an ultra-low cost carrier, said it will resume 17 routes from Atlanta in June and July, after suspending them due to the decline in air travel.

Miramar, Fla.-based Spirit said it had an average of only one departure a day in May, to Detroit. It will have an average of eight departures a day in June and 23 a day in July.

The routes Spirit is resuming from Atlanta in June are to Atlantic City, Baltimore-Washington, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas-Fort Worth, Newark, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando and Philadelphia.

In July, Spirit plans to resume routes from Atlanta to Austin, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New Orleans and Tampa. Spirit operates some routes with less-than-daily service.

Southwest Airlines, the second-largest carrier in Atlanta, is adding new routes from Atlanta late this year. The Dallas-based carrier said it will launch flights from Atlanta to Louisville, Ky., Oklahoma City and Omaha effective Dec. 17.

Southwest previously flew the Atlanta-Oklahoma City route in 2016 and the Atlanta-Louisville route in 2014.

Frontier Airlines, another ultra-low cost-carrier, said it will increase its daily flights from Atlanta to Philadelphia to twice a day starting in November.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said airline passenger counts in April were down 96%. That puts them at the lowest monthly level on record, dating back at least as far as 1974 when the federal agency started tracking the traffic figures. Other reports indicate air travel has dropped to levels not seen since the 1950s.

At Hartsfield-Jackson, April passenger counts were down 95% compared with a year ago, while flight counts dropped 73%.

Many foreign carriers halted flights to Atlanta altogether in April, including Air Canada, Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and WestJet.

Some airlines have resumed flights, including Air France.