What is the current state of domestic air travel? (Fact-based answers, please)

Asking for fact-based answers, based on something you know from a reliable source. Cites welcome.

I have heard a lot about people and businesses curtailing unnecessary travel, but I have not heard anything about domestic flights being grounded, or about people being turned away from domestic flights because they are too crowded (violating the 6-foot rule is pretty hard to avoid anyway on a plane).

So how is this working as of today? Are the airlines canceling domestic US flights due to lack of passengers? Are they limiting seat occupancy to help social distancing?

And then feel free to speculate on how you think it’s going to play out over the next couple of months.

Anecdotal story from today:

An acquaintance of mine is a co-pilot for one of the companies that operates the “commuter” planes for one of the major US carriers. So, she’s flying regional jets, with a capacity of 60 or so.

An hour or so ago, she told me that her flight this evening had a grand total of 4 passengers.

My dad’s neighbor just got back from Hawaii. The trip from Honolulu to Phoenix was fine but he had to wait 5 hours for his flight to Tucson (2 hours away driving) due to his original flight being cancelled.

My dad and I were at the Tucson airport on Saturday to change our tickets (March 16-21) to May. Every counter had at most 2 or 3 passengers. While this was great for us- no line - it was also kind of eerie.

“Global commercial air traffic now down 8% in March compared to 2019”

I haven’t yet found the comparable figure for domestic US flights.

Not the domestic you’re looking for, but Qantas/Jetstar is cutting 60% of domestic flights.

Also, as mentioned in the news release above, Qantas is suspending all international flights(!) from the end of March through at least the end of May.

For a Canadian perspective:

Porter, a regional airline that flies in the eastern half of Canada and the US northeast and Chicago, is shutting down on Friday night until June 1.

WestJet is shutting down on Sunday for 30 days, with the exception of rescue flights to repatriate Canadians.

Air Canada is cutting the domestic network from 63 cities served to 40 and the US network from 50 cites to 13.

From the perspective of my local airport:
Delta is suspending their Sacramento-Detroit and Sacramento-Minneapolis flights starting April 1.
United is suspending their flights to Newark and Washington-Dulles.

ETA: Cutting the MSP flight really hits home for me. I used that flight fairly regularly since my parents like in western Wisconsin. Not that I planned on traveling there any time soon, but hopefully the flight comes back by Christmas.

Searching on “covid flight cancellations” returns the AirFareWatchDog.Com page of cancellations by region and airline. The USA section currently lists reductions by AeroMexico, Air Canada, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, Interjet, JetBlue, Porter, Southwest, Spirit, Sun Country, United, Viva, Volaris, and WestJet. Hope this helps the OP.

I know someone who works for a major travel company. They do not expect things to get back to normal until the beginning of 2021. They may be wrong, but that is how they are planning.
Sorry, can’t be more specific.


An interesting short CGI film about Covid-19 and recirculated air aboard jet planes.

To answer the OP’s question a year+ later.

My employer is operating about 90% of our pre-COVID domestic schedule of the same month and carrying about 90% as many passengers per flight as pre-COVID. So overall about 80% as many travelers as the same month(s) pre-COVID. Many flights depart completely full with standbys left behind. We’re taking in less money since there are more low-priced leisure travelers and fewer high-priced business travelers. And our fixed costs are now spread over fewer flights, so profitability isn’t there … yet…

But by and large, a close facsimile of pre-COVID normalcy has returned. To domestic.

Masks must be worn, and 95% actually are 95% of the time. Airports are crowded, parking lots are full, bars, restaurants, and & shops in airports are almost all open and operating normally.

International to Asia is a black hole of nothingness. International to Europe is a dim cave of despair. International to Central / South America and the Caribbean is not quite as rosy as domestic, but it’s going that way. Those destinations that are open and accepting travelers are packed full every flight. But many destinations are still closed or nearly so.

So that’s what I see from my place in the trenches and what I read in the daily / weekly trade press.


Huh. It wasn’t when I found it. Sorry.

I was able to see/use it. It is very well-done and left me thinking that air travel is actually fairly safe, infection-wise, as long as you wear your mask.

Thanks for this, it was interesting! I didn’t realize how airplane filtration worked before or that the air system already tried to keep air in relatively few rows. Both my partner and I are fully vaccinated and we are trying to figure out if we feel comfortable flying to visit parents. I think at this point it’s probably fine, but it’s hard to shake the feeling of dread.

Yes. My parents, both in their early 80s, insist on flying later this week. Both are fully vaccinated but I’m still uneasy.

I still can’t see the paywalled NYT article (can others??), but I recall reading articles in the past that having additional airflow to the passengers causes a drop in fuel efficiency for the aircraft, and that airlines have been criticized for not allowing enough airflow in order to save money, in exactly this context: reducing germs from traveling throughout the cabin. This was all pre-pandemic.

In fact I’d want the FAA or someone to post minimum requirements for aircraft air exchange, like so many cuft^2 must be brought onto the aircraft per passenger volume per minute during flight. As it stands no passenger can know if the cabin has sufficient ventilation for safety, especially if the airline has a money motive to cut back on it.