United Airlines will reduce flights, freeze hiring and ask employees to volunteer for unpaid leave as the airline struggles with weak demand for travel because of the new virus outbreak.
United said Wednesday that starting in April it will reduce passenger-carrying capacity 20 per cent on international routes and 10 per cent in the U.S. — the first airline to cut domestic flying. United officials said they will temporarily ground an unspecified number of planes.
The moves by United are the clearest sign yet of the financial harm to U.S. airlines from the virus, which has already led them to suspend flights to China and reduce service to other countries.
United announced the cuts shortly after several airline CEOs met at the White House with President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence. The administration is seeking the airlines’ help in tracing travellers who might have come in contact with people ill with COVID-19.
The virus “is affecting the airline business, as it would,” Trump said after the meeting. “A lot of people are staying in our country, and they’re shopping and using our hotels in this country. So from that standpoint, I think probably there is a positive impact, but there is also an impact on overseas travel, which will be fairly substantial.”
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who was also in the meeting, said his agency has screened more than 53,000 people “and prevented a number of folks from coming into the country” largely because of co-operation from the airlines. He did not elaborate.
Wolf said the administration wants additional information about travellers so that public-health agencies can “get in touch with them, looking for a few more pieces of information and data from them.”
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