We’ve seen airlines slash capacity. The skies are far less crowded than they were a couple months ago. Is it time now for more airports to consider similar moves?
Some airports made the decision already. Hong Kong International Airport closed its mid-field terminal, for example, in part to park grounded planes and in part because there is simply no need for the additional gate space to be open when so few passengers and flights are operating. At London’s Heathrow Airport British Airways closed its T5C concourse, similarly using the space to park aircraft while consolidating operations down. Virgin Atlantic also moved its couple remaining flights at Gatwick over to Heathrow for improved efficiencies.
Delhi’s Indira Ghandi International Airport closed T3, prior to the nation going on full lock-down this week. Manchester International Airport also closed its Terminals 2 & 3, consolidating operations into T1. Rome Fiumicino closed a terminal, too.
In Paris, Orly Airport is expected to close at the end of the month, with any remaining operations transferred across town to Charles de Gaulle Airport.
But in the United States that same pattern is not playing out. Even as US carriers cut operations (though not nearly as deeply as in Europe or Asia), the airports remain mostly open as usual. Delta Air Lines indicated it would scale back gate usage in Atlanta, potentially leading to a terminal closure there. United Airlines closed down part of its operations at Terminal A in Newark and at Terminal B in Houston, though it is unclear if they are fully closed.
Opportunities for further closures remain, however. And some could be more dramatic than others.
In New York City, for example, two options present themselves.
At JFK Airport, Terminal 2 already closed its TSA checkpoint, with Delta directing all passengers to clear at T4. As Delta continues to draw down its operations it will be able to suspend the “JFK Jitney” shuttle bus service and dispatch flights only from T4.
Terminal 7 is now down to a minimal number of flights such that it likely could benefit from a similar shift.
While T2 moving to T4 was easy as it is all Delta, T7 is different with multiple carriers all needing somewhere to go. Shifting the planes to T4 or T8 (especially for American Airlines‘ oneworld partners) could solve that problem without too much difficulty.
At T4 the larger international planes are no longer frequent visitors, leaving gates available. Similarly, the cuts to AA’s international operations at T8 open up a lot of capacity, especially around what used to be the peak late-night departure bank, the same time T7 is at its busiest.
Update: Apparently the TSA was already ahead of the game on this one, short-staffed and closing T7 on March 25th.
The numbers are a bit more challenging across town at LaGuardia, but with US carriers reducing capacity in the coming weeks an interesting opportunity presents itself: What if LaGuardia closed to commercial traffic?
Almost all of the airlines operating at LaGuardia also have service at either Newark or JFK Airport. Southwest Airlines is a notable exception, having just recently closed its Newark operation. But, for the most part, operations could be consolidated into one of the other two airports. And there are several potential benefits from that shift.
Reducing the number of employees required to travel to the airport comes with advantages and disadvantages. It would likely mean job cuts or furloughs but also could mean reduced exposure potential in a time where residents are encouraged to limit interaction with others.
Far more significant could be the benefit to the Air Traffic Control network. The NYC area faces staffing pressure under normal circumstances and these are anything but.
Facilities tied to LaGuardia, JFK and the NYC area all have been closed for cleaning in recent days, limiting the dispatch capacity available. And with some local controllers now quarantined the staffing challenges are more significant. As of Tuesday afternoon, for example, LaGuardia is limiting capacity due to staffing shortages tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
By closing LaGuardia and also closing the tower at LaGuardia those ATC resources could presumably be redeployed to assist at JFK or ZNY.
And, assuming the Terminal B construction project continues, things could be rather easier without worrying about planes and passengers and traffic.
Similar benefits might be realized in the Bay Area should operations at San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose consolidate. Maybe even close Long Beach and move those flights to Orange County or LAX. Orlando could also see similar benefits if Sanford ops were to merge in, though Allegiant is the only carrier in Sanford and it does not fly at MCO, raising staffing issues similar to those Southwest would face in New York.
Such moves are not ideal for passengers, but it is better than flying near empty flights or not operating the flights at all. It is all highly unlikely to happen, but it probably should, at least during the peak pandemic period. The potential upside is very real.
For a (generally) up-to-date listing of airlines and their operational levels check out this spreadsheet maintained by PaxEx.Aero and other industry experts.
More on COVID-19 and the airlines affected
- Alaska Airlines offers elite bonus earning in face of COVID-19 booking weakness
- Massive cuts, uncertain recovery timelines for aviation in the face of COVID-19
- Qantas cuts international 25% through September facing coronavirus-induced demand drop
- Spirit Airlines plans 5% growth reduction for April as COVID-19 hurts demand
- American Airlines slashes schedule, increases flexibility for customer rebookings
- US to block some European visitors
- Two key takeaways from American’s latest schedule cuts
- Regulators suspend slot rules, opening door to deeper airline cuts
- Beyond route cuts, airlines initiate extended suspension of operations
- Gogo looks to ride out coronavirus-related dip in demand
- Trans States Airlines: The first US airline victim of COVID-19
- JetBlue removes 40% of capacity, delays new deliveries as demand drops
- Airlines get a break on coronavirus EC261 comp, looking for more
- Airport lounges shutter as airlines slash capacity
- Will COVID-19 delay the opening of Berlin Brandenburg Airport?
- Qatar Airways plans 75% capacity cut in response to COVID-19
- Emirates, Turkish Airlines slash route networks, ground aircraft
- JetBlue plans additional draw down in service
- Is it time for US airports to start closing terminals??
- Converting to cargo: Putting passenger planes to use in the COVID-19 era
- IATA anticipates recession, slower recovery, as COVID-19 impact drag on
- US carriers cut frequencies, not destinations as they seek federal funding
- JetBlue plans 70%+ cut in April operations
- Cancelled flights, vouchers and the airline cash flow crunch
- Spirit Airlines reportedly cutting 90% of flights
- US airlines cut deep, but not deep enough
- An eerie quiet over New York City: The flights are gone
- Who wants what? How the US airlines are responding with CARES Act funding on the line
- Delta, United extend elite status by a year, adjust other benefits
- DOT adjusts, finalizes airline route requirements for CARES Act funding.
- Lufthansa announces major, permanent fleet restructuring
- Air Canada, Alaska Airlines extend elite status
- Deeper cuts, reprotect options coming for JetBlue
- Air Canada replaces seats with cargo in 777-300ER cabin
- American Airlines extends status, eases qualification
- A new take on amenity kits in the COVID-19 era
- COVID crushing inflight connectivity: Part 1
- Stuck in the past, DOT botches its CARES Act implementation
- DOT grants exemptions to Delta, Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines under CARES Act obligations
- Introducing yin-yang seating for economy class
- Inflight social distancing will kill short-haul LCC travel: IATA
- Gogo furloughs 60% of workforce, applies for CARES Act support
- COVID crushing inflight connectivity: Part 2
- De Havilland, Air Canada Cargo partner on Dash 8-400 cargo conversion
- JetBlue plans new route network for CARES Act compliance
- Spirit Airlines running triangle routes to meet CARES Act requirements
- Sun Country wins big as United, Frontier lose in latest CARES Act ruling
- Frontier Airlines pushes new route plan for CARES Act compliance
- Argentina plans to restart flights in September 2020
- Spirit Airlines asks DOT again to drop destinations
- Delta Flight Products, TechOps develop isolation pod for COVID-19 military transport
- JetBlue aims to drop 16 "major hub" destinations from its network
- Allegiant scores leniency from DOT in CARES Act obligations
- Panasonic Avionics implements furloughs to address slowing business
- American, Delta confirm accelerated fleet retirements
- Airbus aims to ease "COVID Combi" temporary freighter conversions
- The Weekly Wrap: FlightPlan, personal screening and more!
- United’s long-haul operations focus on a new "workhorse"
- United plans touchless bag tag kiosks
- Temperature scans in, 767s out for Air Canada, Rouge
- JetBlue, Spirit score exemptions to drop service at major US airports
- IATA recommends against blocked middle seats, favors "layered" protections
- United plans to resume (cargo for now) Hong Kong-Singapore service
- JetBlue suspends six cities through June
- Project Wingman USA Opens Lounges for Frontline Healthcare Heroes at Two Major New York City Hospitals
- Cape Air’s ugly April stats (and some possible good news for May)
- Fighting for the middle: A pandemic seating shift
- Avianca declares bankruptcy, seeks protection in restructuring
- United raises ire in cutting hours for salaried employees
- DOT further relaxes airline CARES Act obligations
- Allegiant sees quick recovery on the horizon
- Delta drops 777 fleet as coronavirus cuts continue
- JetBlue offers free TrueBlue Mosaic status, plus a year extension
- United faces lawsuit over M&A employees pay cut
- Optimism on the horizon: The Weekly Wrap 15 May 2020
- Beached Whale: A380’s future turns more bleak
- TSA implementing lower-touch screening protocols
- Volotea plans for growth into a COVID-affected Summer
- Health passports in our future: The Weekly Wrap
- LATAM seeks US bankruptcy protection, plans to continue operations
- JetBlue plans return of international markets in June
- Frontier, Mobile bicker over flights to Orlando
- US retaliates against China, blocking all flights
- China blinks, US to back down on flight ban
- ATPCO moves to ease ticketing changes for airlines worldwide
- Inflight magazines are not dead yet: The Weekly Wrap–5 June 2020
- From pre-flight massages to COVID-19 testing: XpresSpa pivots to XpresCheck at JFK
- GermFalcon to take flight as Honeywell UV Cabin System
- Allegiant driving passenger traffic recovery
- Air travel is bouncing back: Can the trend hold??
- Masks Matter: US carriers plan more enforcement for on-board behavior
- JetBlue plans to outsource airport operations at (more) smaller destinations
- Norwegian set to restart European services from 1 July
- Jilted travelers get aggressive in seeking airline refund enforcement from the DOT
- LATAM Argentina, LEVEL Europe face bankruptcy
- Air Canada launches half-priced Aeroplan rewards in North America
- AirShield proposes curtains of air to separate passengers in flight
- Curing Catering Concerns: The Weekly Wrap–19 June 2020
- A big hint that British Airways will retire its 747s soon
- JetBlue’s crazy summer of new routes
- Air Canada fights back on refund demands, disputes DOT authority
- JetBlue pilots secure no furlough deal through April 2021