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American to Drop 15 Cities in October When CARES Expires

Madhu Unnikrishnan
August 20th, 2020 at 10:52 AM EDT

American Airlines will stop flying to 15 cities in October as it downsizes its network and prepares to furlough or lay off workers and when the CARES Act requirements on air service expire.

The CARES Act mandated that airlines taking federal funds must continue to operate to all the cities in their networks as of March this year. The Transportation Department (DOT) has granted a number of exemptions to the rule: If, for example, a city was served by a number of airlines or if service to a nearby airport sufficed to ensure the population had access to air travel.

The CARES Act’s payroll support program prohibited airlines from involuntary furloughs or layoffs until Oct. 1. Several airlines and unions have urged lawmakers to extend the program through March 2021, but Congress adjourned for the summer after negotiations on further coronavirus economic aid fell apart. Whether there is political will for more aid to airlines is an open question.

Southwest, United, Delta, and American have all signaled that they will be up to 25% smaller from Oct. 1 and have encouraged employees to take voluntary separation packages. Southwest believes it can shrink sufficiently through these programs. United, Delta, and American have warned that they may need to lay off employees. Airlines say they need to shrink to match demand. And smaller airlines means, by necessity, smaller networks.

In other words, it was always likely that some cities would lose air service. Some in the industry argued the federal government shouldn’t give airlines more money to prop up large networks that did not match depressed travel demand. American last week signaled it could axe as many as 30 cities from its network. Brett Snyder, who writes the Cranky Flier blog widely read by airline executives, said threatening to cut routes could be a tactic to pressure lawmakers to act on more federal aid.

The 15 cities will be dropped from American’s schedule Oct. 7-Nov. 3, and American has not said if it will extend the cuts past that date. “The airline will continue to re-assess plans for these and other markets as an extension of the payroll support program remains under deliberation,” American said in a statement.

The 15 cities are: Del Rio, Texas; Dubuque and Sioux City, Iowa; Florence, S.C.; Greenville, N.C.; Huntington, W.V.; Joplin, Mo.; Kalamazoo, Mich.; Lake Charles, La.; New Haven, Conn.; New Windsor, N.Y.; Roswell, N.M.; Springfield, Ill.; Stillwater, Okla.; Williamsport, Pa.

Madhu Unnikrishnan
August 20th, 2020 at 10:52 AM EDT

Photo credit:  American Airlines

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