US air travel dropped 51 percent in March as coronavirus spread

US air travel dropped 51 percent in March as coronavirus spread
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Travel on American airlines fell 51 percent in March as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States, according to Transportation Department data released Tuesday.

Travel on U.S. airlines fell to 38.7 million passengers in March, a 51 percent drop from March 2019. The reported decrease ended a 29-month year-over-year rise. The total number of domestic and international passengers was just slightly more than those who flew in the month following the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Travel on U.S. airlines has fallen further since March and is currently down about 94 percent, while total flights are down by about 70 percent, according to Reuters.

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Total domestic travel, meanwhile, fell to 34.1 million passengers in March, down from 69.6 million in March 2019, while international travel fell to 4.6 million in March from 9.9 million in March 2019. The international decline was driven in part by White House restrictions on travel from China and parts of Europe due to the pandemic.

The report comes a month after the U.S. Treasury approved $25 billion in cash grants to airlines. The money came with conditions, including a prohibition on stock buybacks, caps on executive compensation and a ban on laying off workers through Sept. 30. United Airlines, however, has said the money will be insufficient to keep them from making layoffs.

Airlines for America, a trade group that represents United and several other major U.S. airlines including Southwest, Delta and American, said last week that airlines are losing more than $10 billion a month with an average of fewer than 24 passengers per flight, according to Reuters.

Internationally, the carriers are averaging 29 passengers a flight, while domestically, they average only 17, according to the group, which added that net booked passengers are down nearly 100 percent year-over-year. U.S. airlines have canceled about 80 percent of scheduled flights into June, according to Reuters.