Feds Relax Restrictions, Airlines Can Halt Service to Smaller Airports

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Friday – motivated, perhaps, by reports of flights with less than two dozen people aboard and routes that could easily be driven – relaxed its restrictions on airlines maintaining service to smaller airports in secondary markets.

The story was first reported by the New York Times.

U.S. airlines were mandated to keep a minimum number of flights to locations it had served before the coronavirus pandemic hit, as a condition of accepting grants and loans made available by the federal government in March as part of the CARES Act stimulus package.

But the pandemic has virtually wiped out the demand for air travel, with capacity dropping to as low as 5 percent full on some days by Transportation Security Administration count, and with some airlines still flying questionable routes. American Airlines, for instance, was operating a flight between two Colorado cities that covered just 29 miles.

The airlines asked for relief and received it on Friday.

According to the Times, 15 airlines were given permission to stop flights to 60 cities that had little to no demand for travel or were easily served by larger, nearby airports. For instance, American can cut flights to Worcester, Mass. in favor of Boston Logan International Airport just 70 minutes away by car for passengers looking to fly to other destinations.

The newspaper noted that no city would be left completely without services; exemptions were granted only if other airlines still flew to them, it said. The Transportation Department also said it reserved the right to revoke any decision if it resulted in “inadequate capacity or connectivity” to a destination.

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