JetBlue among first US airlines to seek waivers to suspend flights to 12 cities

JetBlue Airways is seeking approval to suspend service to 12 cities as it faces near-zero passenger demand during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The request is among the first by U.S. carriers for exemptions to the air service requirements attached to the more than $50 billion in aid available under the government’s coronavirus stimulus package, officially known as the CARES Act. New York-based JetBlue has applied for some of the $25 billion in grants earmarked for airline staff compensation.

JetBlue proposed suspending service to the 12 cities from April 15 to June 10, according to a filing with the Department of Transportation on Wednesday. If approved, JetBlue would temporarily halt service to Albuquerque (ABQ); Bozeman, Montana (BZN); Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW); Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH); Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP); Palm Springs, California (PSP); Portland, Oregon (PDX); Reno (RNO); Sacramento (SMF); Worcester (ORH), Massachusetts; and the airports serving Aguadilla (BQN) and Ponce (PSE) in Puerto Rico.

“There are so few customers traveling to justify even the reduced service levels required by the [CARES Act], and a rigid interpretation of the [air] service obligation will only threaten to unnecessarily diminish JetBlue’s liquidity,” the airline said in its filing. Liquidity refers to the amount of cash a company has on hand to pay its bills.

Airlines are required to maintain a minimal level of air service to all of the destinations in the U.S. they serve in exchange for CARES Act funds. The only exception is for large metropolitan regions served by multiple airports designated by the DOT or a special exemption, such as the one JetBlue sought on Wednesday.

Other airlines have sought creative ways to meet the requirements.

Alaska Airlines is consolidating routes to 12 cities by “tagging” flights to six of them on to existing service to the other six cities. American Airlines is suspending many nonstop flights to its nine domestic hubs and focusing on maintaining service to primarily its two largest bases in Charlotte (CLT) and Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW).

JetBlue previously unveiled plans to temporarily suspend flights to eight airports in the Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington areas, consolidating its operations in each of those areas at a smaller number of airports. Those cuts come amid an 80% cut in system capacity by the carrier.