Q&A: New travel ban shakes up airlines, passengers
Airlines and travelers are still sorting out the new travel ban that President Donald Trump announced late Wednesday that bars most foreign visitors coming to the U.S. from continental Europe for 30 days.
The ban will affect 7,300 flights — and more than 2 million airline seats — scheduled from 26 European nations to the U.S., according to travel data firm Cirium.
Airlines are reeling from a drop in travel caused by the new coronavirus, and the ban will add to pressure on carriers, said Alexandre de Juniac, CEO of the International Air Transport Association trade group.
“We have already seen Flybe go under,” he said, referring to a British airline that shut down last week. “And this latest blow could push others in the same direction.”
Meanwhile, travelers are scrambling to figure out how the ban, which starts at midnight Friday, will affect them.
Here are some frequent questions about the travel ban and its repercussions:
WHO IS COVERED BY THE NEW TRAVEL BAN?
Most foreign citizens who have been in continental Europe in the 14 days before their scheduled U.S. arrival would be barred. The United Kingdom is not part of the 26-country Schengen Area and will be exempted from the ban, along with Ireland, Romania, Croatia, Ukraine and several other European states.
Neither Trump nor the Homeland Security Department explained the reason for leaving out the U.K. A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations said the U.S. sees the biggest threat coming from the European continent, not the U.K. — although the U.K. has at least 459 confirmed coronavirus cases and eight deaths.
The ban doesn’t apply to American citizens returning from abroad, at least for now. It also doesn’t cover foreigners who are lawful permanent residents of the U.S., or the spouses or children of American citizens and foreign children being adopted by Americans. The official said there are no plans to expand the order to include American citizens or lawful permanent residents who have been to Schengen countries, which have no passport controls within its borders.
Trump’s executive order also carves out exemptions for airline crews, people on United Nations business, foreigners invited by the U.S. government to help contain the virus, and anyone whose entry is deemed to be “in the national interest.”
WHERE CAN AMERICANS RE-ENTER THE COUNTRY?
Like previous bans applying to people who have been in China or Iran, they will be funneled to one of 11 airports: Atlanta; Dallas-Fort Worth; Detroit; Newark, New Jersey; Honolulu; Kennedy Airport in New York; Los Angeles International; Chicago O’Hare; Seattle; San Francisco; and Dulles International outside Washington, D.C.
WILL THE BAN PROTECT AMERICANS?
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the the National Institutes of Health’s top official on infectious diseases, said Thursday that 70% of new infections can be traced to Europe. “It was pretty compelling that we needed to turn off the source from that region,” he told a congressional panel.
Other medical experts are skeptical, noting that the virus is now being passed through so-called community transmission — among people who haven’t traveled overseas or been in contact with someone who has.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, who led a World Health Organization team in China as the COVID-19 disease was surging last month, said countries might gain in the short term by limiting travel but overall “it doesn’t help to restrict movement.”
HOW DOES THE OUTBREAK COMPARE TO PAST CRISES FOR THE AIRLINE INDUSTRY?
The combination of the drop in demand, widespread and growing restrictions on travel, and uncertainty over how long it will last is unprecedented, even by the U.S. travel industry’s decline after the 2001 terror attacks and the brief but sharp downturn in global travel during the SARS outbreak in Asia in 2002.
Security measures after 9/11 made the few passengers who kept flying feel safe, and they sensed things would get better, said Seth Kaplan, a transportation analyst and longtime industry observer.
“This is new territory. You have a 9/11-like drop in demand, but you can’t tell people that you’re absolutely safe to fly — you’re not absolutely safe around any group of people,” Kaplan said.
WHICH FLIGHTS WILL BE AFFECTED BY THE BAN?
American Airlines said late Thursday it will suspend flights to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich and Zürich on Friday. It will fly to Paris, Madrid and Barcelona for up to seven more days before stopping those routes. It will reduce flights to London. American hopes to resume the flights starting in early May.
Delta said Thursday that it will suspend seven routes between the U.S. and Europe after Friday. United Airlines said it will fly its normal schedule to Europe through March 19, then cut back from an average of 63 flights a day to about 34 a day while monitoring demand. Delta, United and American all said they were capping fares on flights from Europe to the U.S. They are also waiving fees for changing or canceling tickets through April 30.
Germany’s Lufthansa Group said it will keep flying to Chicago and the New York and Washington, D.C., areas from Frankfurt, Zurich, Vienna and Brussels to maintain “at least some air traffic connections to the USA.” But it will stop U.S.-bound flights from Munich, Geneva and Duesseldorf. The group’s subsidiaries include Lufthansa and Austrian, Swiss and Brussels airlines.
Norwegian Air said it would cancel most of its flights to the U.S. but operate flights from London normally. The budget carrier announced other schedule reductions too, and said it would furlough up to half its employees.
WILL AIRLINES ASK FOR GOVERNMENT HELP?
Airline officials say they haven’t asked for assistance — yet. After a decade of heady profits, U.S. airlines are much stronger financially than they were after the 2001 terror attacks, when they got government help.
The longer the virus disrupts travel, however, the more likely a bailout becomes. Airlines are lining up more credit from banks to preserve liquidity. They are slashing capital spending. They could cancel or defer aircraft orders, although none have announced such moves.
The trigger on a request for aid could be the kind of massive airline layoffs that followed 9/11. Most airlines have already frozen hiring and asked workers to take unpaid leave.
“These airlines are not yet on the precipice of going out of business, but if they feel they can’t responsibly avoid furloughs to save the company, at that point they could go to the government,” Kaplan said.
Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington contributed to this report.