Airlines are doing away with middle seats and beverage service

Fliers in the United States have gotten used to bringing their own food, but now they’ll have to bring their own beverages, too.

a airplane that is parked on the tarmac at an airport: SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 15: A ground crew prepares to unload luggage from an arriving Delta Airlines flight at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on March 15, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. The state of Washington has over 600 confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) and U.S. airports have been crushed with returning citizens after restrictions on travel from Europe were implemented. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Major US airlines are implementing substantial changes to the few free things passengers still receive on airplanes, including drinks and snacks, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Delta Air Lines, Southwest and American Airlines have all announced this week that they’re temporarily suspending beverage service and cutting meal service as a way to cut costs and reduce the number of items flight attendants touch.

The changes, which seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago, are the latest change for the beleaguered industry that has dealt with plummeting revenue, strikingly empty flights and the need for government assistance just to survive the year. Some in the industry are calling for domestic flight operations to be temporarily shut down.

Here’s what fliers will notice:

American Airlines

Beginning March 27 and for the following month, flights on American that are shorter than 4.5 hours will no longer serve meals in first class. Snacks and food available for purchase in the main cabin have been canceled. And beverages will be available only upon request. It also will no longer sell alcohol in economy, but will continue to serve it in first class.

American is making fewer changes on its long-haul flights, of which there are fewer, anyway, because of travel restrictions from other countries. Separately, American has shuttered a number of its pre-flight lounges and is no longer accepting checked pets.

To encourage social distancing policies recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American is reassigning seats to customers so they don’t have to sit next to someone else. That means most people will be able to avoid the dreaded middle seat. The changes were made easier because many airlines are flying with only 20% to 30% of seats filled.


Delta Air Lines

Beginning immediately on domestic and some shorter international flights, Delta is reducing the number of snack offerings to two, giving its first class passengers boxed meals and completely eliminating alcoholic drinks for everyone. The only beverage available to order is bottled water. The changes are in addition to eliminating glassware and hot towels in first class.

The airline said it’s currently “evaluating adjustments” for its long-haul international flights. A number of its pre-flight lounges, known as the Sky Club, have also been closed because of dwindling passenger traffic. 

Southwest Airlines

Southwest doesn’t have first class cabins or lounges, but it’s also making changes. It’s suspending beverage and snack service beginning Wednesday to “limit close public interactions” between customers and its crew. Canned water will be made available by request. 

United Airlines

United told CNN Business that it doesn’t have immediate plans to make changes similar to its rivals. It has tweaked how it’s offering snacks by serving them on a tray instead of letting passengers pick their own, no longer refilling beverages and letting their flight attendants wear gloves during flights.

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Hawaiian Airlines Cuts 40 Percent of Domestic, International Service

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Hawaii continue to climb, Hawaiian Airlines announced it would reduce its flight schedule by nearly 40 percent in April.

Hawaiian revealed its updated flight schedule grid Wednesday with the latest status on affected routes, which was heavily influenced by the latest government restrictions and a drop in demand.

To help support the travel needs of customers and minimize disruptions, the airline is also offering waivers to provide travelers flexibility when booking and changing flights. In addition, the carrier has enhanced cleaning measures to keep employees and guests safe.

Impacted flights to North America include suspending service for April between Kahului, Maui and Las Vegas; dropping the second daily nonstop flight between Honolulu and Seattle and San Francisco; and reducing some service between islands until demand increases.

As for international travel, Hawaiian is suspending service to Tahiti due to new arrival restrictions by the French Polynesian government and reducing the number of flights between Honolulu and Japan.

Delta Air Lines announced Wednesday the carrier would cut passenger capacity by 70 percent across its system—including an 80-percent reduction on international service—until the demand for the routes begins to rebound.

United Airlines also revealed Tuesday it would reduce its number of flights scheduled for next month by a total of 60 percent, including a 42-percent drop across the U.S. and Canada and an 85-percent decrease in international flights.

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United Airlines Continues to Cut Domestic, International Flight Schedules

United Airlines announced Tuesday it would implement significant cuts to its domestic and international flight schedule for April as the coronavirus outbreak continues to plague the travel industry.

The carrier revealed that it would reduce its number of flights scheduled for next month by a total of 60 percent, including a 42-percent drop across the U.S. and Canada and an 85-percent decrease in international flights.

United will operate approximately 45 daily flights in April across the Atlantic, Pacific and Latin America, as the carrier monitors demand, changes in state and local curfews and government restrictions.

Airline officials said the decision was made as a result of a continued drop in demand and virus-related restrictions, and the company will continue to adjust its schedule throughout the month as necessary.

Last week, United Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz and President Scott Kirby—who is scheduled to take over as CEO in May—announced they would forgo their base salaries at least through June 30.

The U.S. Travel Association also announced Tuesday it projects an $809 billion hit on the U.S. economy and the loss of 4.6 million travel-related jobs in the country.

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Airlines Using Empty Passenger Planes to Transport Cargo

As airlines around the world are asking for government assistance due to the financial impact of the coronavirus, many carriers have started flying cargo on passenger jets to make money.

According to, rates in the air cargo market are surging right now as a result of the loss of capacity in the bellies of passenger aircraft following the suspension of service by the top airlines.

Carriers such as Cathay Pacific and Korean Air Lines announced they would fly planes without passengers to transport cargo as a result of the high demand. Qantas also said it would replace lost capacity from regularly scheduled services with freight-only flights.

Freight Investor Services told clients Monday that prices are skyrocketing across all Asia-Pacific routes and “2020 is fast becoming the year of the freighter.” Singapore Airlines also reported a higher cargo load factor in February than the previous year.

“It’s now fair to call this the single biggest shock that global aviation has ever experienced,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said in a statement. “Our goal is to protect as many jobs as possible and to make sure we remain strong enough to ride this out.”

Carriers in the United States are also feeling the pinch, as American Airlines announced Saturday it would be forced to cut 75 percent of its international capacity through May 6 to combat the loss of revenue from decreased customer demand.

United Airlines also revealed it would reduce capacity for April and May by 50 percent and cut corporate officers’ salaries in half. In addition, carriers are taking a more aggressive approach to cleaning and disinfecting their planes in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus.

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Airlines plead for UK government aid as cancellations due to coronavirus continues

British Airways’ parent company, IAG, says it will cut three-quarters of planned flights in April and May 2020.

Willie Walsh, IAG’s chief executive, said: “We have seen a substantial decline in bookings across our airlines and global network over the past few weeks and we expect demand to remain weak until well into the summer.

“We are therefore making significant reductions to our flying schedules.

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“We will continue to monitor demand levels and we have the flexibility to make further cuts if necessary.

“We are also taking actions to reduce operating expenses and improve cash flow at each of our airlines.”

The announcement from IAG came after Britain’s biggest budget airline, easyJet, warned: ”There is no guarantee that the European airlines will survive what could be a long-term travel freeze.”

The Luton-based carrier is the latest to ask for state aid to support carriers whose sales have effectively fallen to zero. It said it could ground “the majority” of its fleet due to the coronavirus crisis, though in the very short term easyJet will operate rescue flights to repatriate passengers stranded abroad.

EasyJet chief executive, Johan Lundgren, said: “European aviation faces a precarious future and it is clear that coordinated government backing will be required to ensure the industry survives and is able to continue to operate when the crisis is over.”

Europe’s biggest holiday company, Tui, has announced it will suspend the vast majority of all travel operations until further notice, including package travel, cruises and hotel operations.

“This temporary suspension is aimed at contributing to global governmental efforts to mitigate the effects of the spread of the Covid-19,” the firm told investors.

“We are taking substantial cost measures to mitigate the earnings effect. Moreover, we have decided to apply for state aid guarantees to support the business until normal operations are resumed.”

The Scandinavian carrier SAS has put most of its operations on hold “until necessary prerequisites for commercial air traffic returns” and laid off 9,000 staff.

“The waiting time at our call centres is extraordinary long,” the company said. “We kindly ask that you only call us if your flight departs within the next three days.

Air New Zealand’s final flight from London to Auckland is likely to take off on Friday 20 March.

The airline has announced an 85 per cent cut in its international network until the end of June. In theory the Heathrow-Los Angeles-Auckland link may re-start, but in practice it is likely to be grounded for good.

The carrier had already announced plans to end the service from October 2020, and has sold the landing and take-off slots at Heathrow.

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has signalled that the government may bail out the struggling aviation industry.

Speaking on Sky News, he said: “I’m meeting with the whole of the transport sector this week, but mainly to feed into an economic and business committee chaired by the chancellor in order that we can do what we’ve said all along.

”Which is, we understand this is a crisis like we haven’t seen before where businesses which are otherwise sustainable, otherwise good businesses, of course should be able to survive through this situation.

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United Airlines flight diverted when 'people became upset' over a 'sick' passenger

A United Airlines flight en route to New Jersey was redirected to Denver International Airport after concerns over a sick passenger.

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Three passengers voluntarily departed the plane on Sunday and sought their own means of transportation to their destination, according to Denver police spokesman Kurt Barnes.

Denver police helped at the gate after an incident raised health concerns “while in-flight.” “A person was sick on the plane and these people became upset,” Barnes said.

At 1:08 p.m. local time, Denver International Airport officials received notice United Flight 1562, which departed from nearby Eagle County Regional Airport, was diverting off course. Airport spokeswoman Alex Renteria said after the concerned passengers disembarked, the plane left for Newark at 2:06 p.m.

FBI spokeswoman Amy Meyer said it was a “customer service issue.”

“As far as we know, nobody involved had COVID-19,” state health officials said.

According to the local NBC-affiliate KUSA, the person was suffering from allergies and did not have a fever.

United Airlines recently shared its strategy to protect customers and employees amid fears about the spread of the coronavirus. “The dynamic nature of this outbreak requires us to be nimble and flexible in how we respond, provide service and protect our customers and employees,” the company said.

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