Delta Air Lines will cut its flying by 40% and suspend all flights to Europe, except London, for at least 30 days, the deepest capacity cut in company history and far more than it planned just a few days ago.
The airline, which is the dominant carrier at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and employs about 10,000 Minnesotans, is also asking many workers to voluntarily take unpaid time off.
It will also park 300 of its 900 airplanes as global demand for travel deteriorates because of fear about the spreading coronavirus.
"The speed of the demand falloff is unlike anything we've seen," Ed Bastian, Delta chief executive, wrote in a memo to employees Friday. "We are moving quickly to preserve cash and protect our company."
The decision came just three days after Delta announced a 15% capacity cut and other cost savings across the company, highlighting the downward economic effect the pandemic is having on businesses, particularly airlines and those in other travel-related industries.
Since Tuesday, the number of Americans who have contracted the virus has risen sharply, numerous public events have been canceled and President Donald Trump ordered a 30-day ban on air travel from Europe except the United Kingdom.
The broader reduction is even more than Atlanta-based Delta scaled back after 9/11.
"Demand for travel is declining at an accelerated pace daily, driving an unprecedented revenue impact. Cancellations are rising dramatically with net bookings now negative for travel over the next four weeks," Bastian wrote. "To put that in perspective, we're currently seeing more cancellations than new bookings over the next month."
Delta will also defer new aircraft deliveries and reduce capital expenditures by at least $2 billion for the year. Delta spent about $5 billion on capital projects last year. It will also reduce the use of consultants and contractors, and Bastian said he will forfeit his salary for the next six months.
He said Delta is in a stronger financial position than at any point prior in its 95-year history. Delta has been the world's most profitable airline and one month ago doled out a record $1.6 billion in profit-sharing to its 90,000 employees. "We've spent a decade building a strong, resilient airline," he said.
Even so, Bastian said that Delta will ask the federal government for financial relief.
Meanwhile, Twin Cities-based Sun Country Airlines faced an onslaught of passengers calling to cancel or book spring-break travel. The privately held carrier said its call center was overwhelmed by 25,000 calls Thursday, 10 times its normal volume. The airline asked customers whose travel date is later to wait a few days to call so people with more imminent travel can reach an agent.