Several major airlines, feeling the coronavirus’s tightening economic squeeze, moved Tuesday to slash routes, redraw their financial outlooks for the year and even slash executive pay.

Delta Air Lines said it is cutting international flights by as much as 25% and domestic routes by 10% to 15%. The carrier is also withdrawing its 2020 financial outlook, instituting a hiring freeze and suspending its stock repurchase program.

Speaking at the J.P. Morgan Industrials Conference, Delta executives said that the global outbreak has cut net bookings by at least 25%, a drop-off they expect will worsen. Executives said most of the uncertainty surrounded domestic travel, with CEO Ed Bastian adding that the fear that’s now keeping travelers home was “more akin to what we saw at 9/11,” as opposed to some broader economic force.

American Airlines also is pulling back, announcing plans to scale back peak summer international flying by 10%. Those cuts include a 55% reduction in trans-Pacific routes as the outbreak continues to exact a toll on China, South Korea and Japan. American will also reduce domestic flying in April by 7.5%.

Meanwhile, United Airlines said Tuesday that its CEO and president will forgo their base salaries through at least the end of June. United and JetBlue were the first U.S. carriers to cut domestic service last week.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly is also taking a 10% pay cut as the carrier contends with steep declines in bookings. The decision was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and later confirmed by The Washington Post.


Last week, Southwest said it expects to lose $200 to $300 million in March alone because of the outbreak. Kelly compared the jarring drop in sales to the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, saying the blow to the travel industry “was more fear, quite frankly, and I think that that’s really what’s manifested this time.”

The coronavirus outbreak has thrown much of the tourism industry into free fall. In a matter of weeks, hotels, airlines and convention centers have seen their bookings plummet as leisure travelers stay home and businesses discourage or cancel employee travel. The State Department warned against going on cruises during the coronavirus scare and U.S. health officials prevented some ships from sailing. Share prices for major carriers and hotel chains have plunged.

On Monday, Trump said he would ask Congress to cut payroll taxes and provide relief to hourly workers suffering from coronavirus’s economic fallout. He also said he was looking to help the airline, hotel and cruise industries. But it wasn’t clear whether he would ask Congress to help these industries or if he thought he could do it alone.

On Tuesday morning, Delta’s Bastian said there was “no question” the airline industry would see some form of government intervention.

“Hopefully we’ll start to see some light at the end of the tunnel before massive structural changes,” Bastian said.

Foreign carriers were hardly immune.Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA said Tuesday that it will cancel 3,000 flights through mid-June. It is also temporarily laying off workers to ride out the crisis.

Loizos Heracleous, an aviation industry expert at Britain’s Warwick Business School, said there are estimates that coronavirus could cost the aviation industry up to one fifth of its revenue, or nearly $219 billion. Much depends on when the virus is contained and how quickly the world economy bounces back.

“The aviation industry has already been consolidating over the last few years, especially in Europe where the market is very competitive,” Heracleous said. “With the added pressure created by coronavirus, it would be no surprise to see weaker airlines go out of business or acquired by rival companies.”

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