As the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak ripples out from the epicenter in China, airlines have been among the hardest hit.
Already, the outbreak is leading to sharp reductions in air travel demand in the US, with major companies such as Amazon ordering a freeze on all non-essential employee travel. The result is clear in photos showing empty airplane seats and deserted terminals.
In China, the impact has been even more severe, with air travel plummeting 80 percent at the country’s busiest airports and mass cancellations of both domestic and international flights.
The reduction in global airline capacity, measured by how many seats remain grounded, is now greater than after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, industry analysts say.
A flight attendant from Denver with Frontier Airlines posted this photo of an empty plane on Wednesday
A nearly empty Cathay Pacific flight is seen on the late-night Vancouver to New York route on February 22. The red-eye route was once popular
The Tom Bradley International terminal at the Los Angeles International airport looks eerily quiet on Thursday as demand for air travel slumps
After 9/11, airline revenue dropped an estimated $19.6 billion in 2002 dollars. The coronavirus crisis could cost the industry an estimated $29.3 billion in lost revenue for 2020, according to the industry group IATA.
The group said on Friday that countries with confirmed virus cases in excess of 90 —China, Italy, Iran, Japan, Singapore and South Korea — represent 25 percent of global airline passenger numbers and 20 percent of global passenger revenues.
‘Back after 9/11 at the end of 2001, it really took about nine months before we saw the industry recover from the impact of the events,’ said Wall Street Journal aviation correspondent Benjamin Katz.
‘Now, with the coronavirus, it’s a very different situation and it’s difficult to give an assessment, but analysts are expecting with the coronavirus this could actually last quite a bit longer,’ he continued.
With the extent of the crisis still unknown, experts cautioned that the full impact on airlines remains to be seen.
‘If we look back in ten years time, will this be seen as a blip or a game changer?’ IBA Aviation Consultancy CEO Phil Seymour told the Journal.
‘Most empty plane I’ve seen in a while,’ tweeted Yahoo Finance Editor in Chief Andy Serwer on this flight from Raleigh-Durham to JFK on Wednesday
This traveler from Memphis relates from a flight on Tuesday: ‘The lady at the gate said, “this is not a full flight. Only 76 of you and it holds 145. If you’re not taking your own row, you’re living life wrong!”’
Empty seats on a Thursday flight to Seattle are seen left, while right the JetBlue counter at JFK stands empty on Tuesday
The Tom Bradley International terminal at the Los Angeles International airport looks eerily quiet on Thursday
On Friday, the flight cancellations continued around the globe, with United Airlines sharply cutting flights to Japan and South Korea.
United ended down 5.2 percent on Friday and were down more than 22 percent over the last week.