Following President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement that US-Europe flights would be banned for a month, carriers are now reworking schedules to meet the new requirements – which is resulting in massive layoffs.
The new flight restrictions to Europe affect around 7,300 flights and two million seats over the 30-day period outlined by the administration, says travel data specialist Cirium.
One European airline, Norwegian Air Shuttle AS A, said Thursday it would furlough up to half of its staff of 11,500, as the trans-Atlantic budget carrier tries to shield itself from the impact of the coronavirus fallout. It said the ban would force it to ground 40% of its long-haul fleet. It said it is suspending more than 4,000 flights.
Delta Air Lines Inc. is suspending at least eight routes between Europe and the U.S. in response to new restrictions. Flights between Paris, Amsterdam, and London and several cities throughout the U.S. will operate Wednesday and Thursday then will be suspended following their Friday returns. Delta says it will evaluate additional schedule adjustments based on consumer demand.
“I can’t recall anything that comes close to this,” said Peter Harbison, chairman at the Australia-based research firm CAPA—Center for Aviation. “On a global scale it’s the most difficult environment for airlines ever in modern times.”
For Americans in Europe, the news triggered a different sort of scramble: one to get back home before the ban takes effect. In addition to the mandatory quarantine, U.S. travelers will also be required to re-enter the country via an airport equipped with screening measures. It wasn’t clear which ones those were. U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials said they would provide more detail in the next 48 hours.
Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport opened a separate ticketing line for U.S.-bound passengers trying to rebook their tickets. Hundreds of travelers who landed overnight from the U.S. sought to head right back, creating long lines. Other American travelers due to return later this week also headed to the airport, seeking to rebook their flights via the U.K. amid concerns that the travel ban could be extended to U.S. citizens in coming days.
Airline customer service lines on both sides of the Atlantic were overwhelmed with calls. Many anxious travelers, unsure how the ban would affect their plans, waited hours for advice.
Ryan Uthoff, 26 years old, woke up in Copenhagen at 2:30 a.m. local time to a barrage of text messages and alerts that travel had been banned outright. He was scheduled to fly back home from his European vacation out of Stockholm, Sweden, on Sunday.
When he called Delta, the wait time for customer service was six hours long. He quickly booked a flight to London, figuring he would find a way home from there. When he later learned that the ban applied only to foreign nationals, he decided to stick to his original itinerary and canceled the new flight to London.
Stephanie Alexander, a 26-year-old law student who lives in Washington, D.C., was up late on her last night of a quick trip to Barcelona and Paris when she saw the news on French TV: “I could make out that it said something about how Trump had banished travel from Europe,” Ms. Alexander said.
When she turned on her phone the next morning, Ms. Alexander was bombarded with panicked messages from friends, classmates and acquaintances asking her if she would be able to make it home.
Ms. Alexander, whose flight to New York was set to leave at 6:05 p.m. local time, said she learned from news articles that the ban wasn’t going to go into effect until Friday, and wouldn’t apply to U.S. citizens. But she and a traveling companion nevertheless decided to head to the airport early in the hopes of catching an earlier flight home. “The anxiety was horrible,” Ms. Alexander said. “We thought we’d get out of here expeditiously.”