Airline business at Denver International Airport is spiraling downward, with hundreds of scheduled flights getting canceled daily as COVID-19 cases grow across Colorado and the U.S. Passengers have been staying away in increasing numbers, too.
Last week brought the coronavirus impact into stark relief: DIA data shows that traffic through its security checkpoints was down 64.7% compared to the same week in March 2019. The 176,166 people who passed through security didn’t include connecting passengers.
On Monday, the Transportation Security Administration said it screened 331,000 people at airport checkpoints, compared to 2.4 million people on the same date in 2019.
The two prior weeks had notched smaller declines, but a DIA spokesperson said those were likely blunted by the rush of travelers cutting trips short and heading home amid the coronavirus news.
“The impact has absolutely taken a toll on the airline industry,” said Katherine Estep, spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade organization. “It’s still mind-boggling how fast the coronavirus has had an impact on airlines.”
At DIA, 15 airlines canceled 431 incoming and outgoing flights Tuesday, FlightAware said. That was after more than 500 flights were canceled Monday.
Airline carriers are burning through $12 billion in losses a month, Estep said.
“Carriers have made historic flight reductions,” she said.
Nationally, airlines and airports are reporting a dire situation with one U.S. airline official telling the Associated Press that more than a dozen of his company’s flights took off Tuesday with fewer than 10 passengers on board.
The International Air Transport Association said Tuesday that it estimates passenger revenue worldwide could fall as much as $252 billion, or 44%, compared with last year because of the air travel decline.
Some airports are sending air traffic controllers home because of coronavirus outbreaks while major airlines are drafting plans in case they have to shut down domestic flights because of a lack of airport screeners and air traffic controllers.
DIA, which had notched years of record passenger traffic, is shifting gears to deal with the crisis. Last week, spokesperson Stacey Stegman acknowledged that the financial impact of the coronavirus hit, if it persists, could force the airport to scrutinize billions of dollars worth of capital projects that are underway to ensure the airport’s budget stays healthy.
The cancellations have piled up.
On Tuesday, United Airlines had the most cancellations at DIA with 167 incoming and outgoing flights canceled, or 41% of all scheduled flights, FlightAware said.
Southwest Airlines, which canceled 46 flights Tuesday, urged its customers to check Southwest.com for travel notifications and flight status, Ro Hawthorne, Southwest spokesperson wrote in an email.
Private travelers are cancelling because of fear of COVID-19, Estep said. Government travel bans have eliminated many business-related flights, she said.
“The coronavirus has had a crazy impact. It’s slammed us,” Estep said.
Staff writer Jon Murray and the Associated Press contributed to this story.
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