Delta and Sun Country, two leading airlines at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, on Wednesday announced deeper cuts to their flight schedules as more people avoid air travel to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
Delta, the dominant carrier at the airport, said it will cut flight capacity by 70% and ground 600 planes, more than half its fleet. Last Friday, the carrier said it was aiming for a 40% reduction in flight capacity and, just a few days earlier, a 15% reduction.
Sun Country, which is based at MSP, said it will cut its capacity by 23% in April and a bit more in May.
Executives at both airlines cited the rapid decline in demand for flights.
Delta last week asked employees to take voluntary leave without pay and about 10,000 have, the company said. Senior executives are working at reduced pay, and Chief Executive Ed Bastian gave up his salary for six months.
In a note to employees Wednesday, Bastian wrote, "I know everyone is concerned about the security of your jobs and pay. In this unpredictable environment we can't take any options off the table, but any steps that would affect your jobs or pay rates would be the absolute last thing we would do, and only if necessary to secure Delta's long-term future."
Delta has about 10,000 employees in Minnesota, with MSP as its second-largest hub and maintenance base and call centers elsewhere in the state.
Bastian said the company's March revenue is expected to decline by almost $2 billion compared with last year, and April will be worse. Delta's monthly revenue averages a little less than $4 billion. Delta is also closing the majority of its airport Sky Clubs to save cash.
"Making swift decisions now to reduce the losses and preserve cash will provide us the resources to rebound from the other side of this crisis and protect Delta's future," Bastian said.
Sun Country is closing its Portland and Las Vegas flight-attendant bases, offering those workers the opportunity to relocate to Minneapolis-St. Paul or one of its smaller charter bases.
The airline is also asking nonunion employees to voluntarily take unpaid leave. The pilot's union, the Air Line Pilots Association, and management are working toward an agreement that would avoid furloughs.
"The impact of COVID-19 continues to be beyond what anyone in the aviation industry could've imagined a week ago," the airline said in a statement. "We are focused on making cuts where we have redundant flights in order to minimize the impact of schedule changes to customers."
As passenger traffic drops, Sun Country is gearing up to begin contract flying for Amazon Air in late April, which could provide the company some revenue.
"But even with that flying, the company needs a reduction in costs of about 40% to remain viable in the short term," the pilot union's Master Executive Council told Sun Country pilots in an e-mail Tuesday evening. "Know that we are working with the company to find a solution that does not involve furloughing pilots and that addresses the needs of our pilot group as a whole."