U.S. airlines start cutting flights due to UK, Ireland restrictions

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – United Airlines Co said late Saturday it would begin cutting flights to the United Kingdom after Washington expanded travel restrictions to Britain and Ireland, and Southwest Airlines moved toward flight cuts as the coronavirus outbreak sapped demand.

FILE PHOTO: A Delta Air Lines Boeing 737-800 plane sits at the gate at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 1, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Delta Airlines Inc also said it planned to start cutting flights to the United Kingdom.

Southwest, one of the few U.S. airlines still flying a full schedule, said it was “seriously considering” cutting flights.

While airlines scrambled to stem losses and protect jobs, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the government would “immediately” start working with Congress to support the airline and cruise industries, both hard hit by the spiraling crisis.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said restrictions on the UK and Ireland will begin Monday at midnight, barring most non-U.S. citizens from entering the United States who have been in those countries within the last 14 days.

They do not bar flights to and from the United States, and Americans and permanent residents can still travel.

United said it would suspend flights to London from Houston and Denver starting Monday. United said it expects to fly three daily flights to London and one daily flight to Dublin through the end of April.

United said it would give a credit for the value of the ticket for any customer whose international travel is disrupted by more than six hours because of schedule changes resulting from government restrictions. Customers who do not use the credit for 12 months will get a refund.

Washington first imposed restrictions on China and expanded them this week to continental Europe, prompting U.S. airlines to cut numerous flights and scramble to shore up capital.

Among cost-cutting measures, U.S. airlines are offering employees voluntary unpaid leaves of absence to match staffing with flights.

The outbreak came as Delta and its pilots’ union were in contract negotiations, and the sides reached an agreement on coronavirus-related sick leave and managing overstaffing for April with partially paid schedules. United and Southwest could reach deals with their pilots soon, sources said.

On Friday, Delta said it would cut capacity 40% in the next few months, the largest reduction in its history. It will eliminate nearly all flights to continental Europe for 30 days and will park up to 300 aircraft.

United and American Airlines also announced cuts to European service this week. On Friday, major U.S. airlines confirmed they had been in talks with the White House and Congress about financial assistance.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Friday called on the government to “turn next to a package to assist impacted employers… No business should go bankrupt because of a temporary loss in revenue as a result of the coronavirus.”

Airlines are reeling from a plunge in bookings and traffic, as the fast-spreading pandemic prompts travel restrictions and event cancellations around the world.

U.S. passenger railroad Amtrak said on Saturday it was scaling back services due to reduced demand. Last week the company said bookings had plunged 50% since the coronavirus outbreak.

Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, David Gregorio and Daniel Wallis

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