WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A decline in air travel has caused airlines to make changes when it comes to schedules, service and safety.
On Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported it screened 200,815 individuals through security checkpoints nationwide, compared to 2,419,114 a year earlier.
Last week airlines were averaging about 17 passengers per domestic flight, according to the Associated Press. In response to fewer flyers, carriers have announced changes to service.
Last Friday, Delta announced it’s consolidating service in markets with more than one Delta-served airport to allow more front line employees to minimize COVID-19 exposure risk while customer traffic is low. Effective Wednesday, the airline is suspending travel to ten airports, including T.F. Green., through at least September 2020.
Delta is the second airline to suspend service at the airport in recent weeks. Last month, JetBlue announced it would be suspending operations at T.F. Green from April 15 through June 30.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s “minimum air service” rule consolidated T. F. Green’s service with Logan Airport.
A spokesperson with the Rhode Island Airport Corporation sent Eyewitness News a statement in part, reading:
“As states come out of the stay at home orders and there is need for service here in Rhode Island, some in our community will have no choice but to drive to Boston for their travel needs.”John Goodman
“The RI Airport Corporation has protested this DOT ruling given its adverse economic impact on RI’s economy. Both the Governor and our congressional delegation have joined us in pressing the DOT to change their position.”
Director of Media and Public Relations, Rhode Island Airport Corporation
Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation affirmed again airlines must offer passengers the option of a refund when the airline cancels or significantly changes the flight.
“The Department has received an unprecedented volume of complaints from passengers and is examining this issue closely to ensure that airlines’ policies and practices conform to DOT’s refund rules. The Department is asking all airlines to revisit their customer service policies and ensure they are as flexible and considerate as possible to the needs of passengers who face financial hardship during this time.”Elaine Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation
Both Delta and JetBlue say they will accommodate customers impacted by service interruptions.
United is letting flyers know what their flight’s expected capacity is expected to be ahead of take-off. Passengers have the option to rebook or get travel credit through June 30.
Like many airlines, United says it’s taking social distancing into consideration onboard. A statement from the airline claims the vast majority of its flights are less than half full, but adds “because our schedule is so reduced (we’re only operating a single flight a day in some destinations), there are a small number of flights where our customers are finding planes fuller than they expect.”
The airline received backlash after a doctor posted a photo on Twitter, showing a seemingly full flight from New York to San Francisco. United did not specify the number of passengers on board, but said the flight, “did have a higher than average load factor but it still departed with empty seats.”
The airline added in its statement, “while we cannot guarantee that all customers will be seated next to an unoccupied seat, based on historically low travel demand and the implementation of our various social distancing measures, that is the likely outcome.”
In addition to social distancing, carriers have announced increased cleaning and sanitation.
A spokesperson from RIAC tells Eyewitness News T.F. Green Airport is continuing enhanced cleaning protocols using EPA and CDC recommended disinfectants. The airport has also updated airport signage to remind travelers of Governor Gina Raimondo’s executive orders requiring face coverings in public areas, as well as continued requirements for travelers to self-quarantine.
Currently, only some airlines are requiring everyone to wear a mask on board.
Captain Joe Depete is the president of the Air Line Pilots Association, International and says while this is a good first step, it’s incomplete.
“It needs to be mandatory across the board. And if we can get the FAA to do its job and mandate compliance with CDC guidelines, it would be much more effective,” Depete said.