U.S. airlines asked the government for $50 billion in aid to protect the flailing industries’ survival through coronavirus back in March. Market researchers noted that Delta, American, Southwest, and United collectively spent roughly $39 billion buying back shares over the previous five years, according to a tally from S&P Dow Jones Files. This week, “Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways Corp and Spirit Airlines on Tuesday asked the U.S. Transportation Department for approval to suspend flights to more than two dozen U.S. airports” according to Reuters.
COVID-19 has caused severe damage across the board, resulting in U.S. travel falling by over 95%. JetBlue wants to suspend flights to 16 U.S. airports, including Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Seattle, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Detroit through Sept. 30 reports Reuters.
Delta wants to halt flights to nine airports: Lansing, Flint, and Grand Rapids in Michigan, Worcester, Massachusetts, Hilton Head, South Carolina, Pocatello, Idaho, Brunswick, Georgia, Melbourne, Florida. Delta reported as few as only 1 to 14 passengers flew daily from these locations between April 1 and April 22.
Spirit Airlines has also requested pausing service to these large cities: Charlotte, Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, and Phoenix. The U.S. Transportation Department already rejected Spirit’s request earlier this month to suspend flights and they were required to continue flights to New York City and other tri-state airports.
JetBlue also was required to resume flights to nine destinations including Portland, Dallas, Houston, and Minneapolis. On Monday this week, the Transportation Department said “it rejected most requests by United Airlines and Frontier Airlines to suspend some flights” reported Reuters. “Frontier asked approval to suspend service to 33 U.S. airports through June 10 and the department approved just three requests for service to Detroit, Charlotte, and the Boston area.”
Market researchers noted that Delta, American, Southwest, and United collectively spent roughly $39 billion buying back shares over the previous five years
The travel industry is arguably one of the most lucrative businesses to keep intact, but at what cost? Democratic lawmakers and labor unions criticized the airlines for “spending years of windfall profits buying back their own stock” therefore their stimulus aid “must include worker and consumer protections” reported CNBC.
CNBC also reported that “U.S. airlines employ close to 750,000 people, according to federal data” and have asked, “workers to take unpaid leave in a bid to preserve cash.” Big business critics such as New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted of the airline bailout, “if there is so much as a DIME of corporate bailout money in the next relief package, it should include a reinstated ban on stock buybacks.”
Lobbying group Airlines for America defended their monetary aid request in March by saying that “U.S. carriers have invested heavily in their employees, who are the backbone of the industry, to increase salaries and pensions over the last decade.” They boasted “between 2019 and 2018 airline worker compensation rose about 41% on average” but fear the situation is “getting worse each day” causing a roughly $10 billion a month cost.