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Airlines and Government Considering Shutting Down Virtually All U.S. Domestic Passenger Flights

Rows of empty seats of an American Airline flight as coronavirus disruption continues across the global industry during a flight between Washington D.C. and Miami, March 18, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Domestic passenger flights in the U.S. could shut down almost completely, either voluntarily or by government order as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the country, discouraging and disrupting air travel.

Major U.S. airlines have begun putting a plan in place for potentially shutting down nearly all domestic passenger flights as anemic ticket sales cause unheard of situations such as a flight from LaGuardia Airport in New York City to Washington D.C. with only three passengers aboard.

Meanwhile, the White House is weighing ordering the same move but has not made a final decision, the Wall Street Journal reported.

On Monday, American Airlines and United Airlines had canceled upwards of 40 percent of previously scheduled flights, according to data from Flightaware.com, a flight tracking site.

Air traffic control facilities have also faced staffing emergencies as cases of employees with coronavirus disrupted operations in at least 11 facilities, including the John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports in New York, and other airports in Virginia, Long Island, Illinois, Delaware, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, and Chicago.

Airlines are projected to lose up to $113 billion in revenue and demand for flights worldwide is expected to decline for the first time since 2009 during the recession, according to the International Air Transport Association.

“The turn of events as a result of [the coronavirus] is almost without precedent. In little over two months, the industry’s prospects in much of the world have taken a dramatic turn for the worse,” Alexandre de Juniac, the chief executive of IATA, said in a statement earlier this month. “It is unclear how the virus will develop, but … this is a crisis.”

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