Far fewer people are flying because of the coronavirus outbreak. But many of the planes they would be boarding are still taking off—even if they're empty. Rules in Europe say airlines can lose their airport slots if they don't fly 80% of their flights, Business Insider reports. So some operators are flying ghost planes just to be flying, burning fuel and incurring crew and other costs. A group of British carriers asked the nation's transportation secretary to step in to have the rules suspended, per the Times of London. He called the situation "not acceptable" in a letter to the independent group that controls airport slots. "It is not in the industry's, the passengers' or the environment's interest and must be avoided," Grant Shapps said. The organization has frozen the requirement for flights to and from mainland China and Hong Kong but kept them in force everyplace else.
The industry in general is facing its biggest threat since the 9/11 attacks. Airline stocks are falling with traffic, per the New York Times, and an industry group predicted that revenue worldwide could fall $63 billion to $113 billion for the year. Some airports are nearly empty except for workers in protective clothing. One passenger reported a three-hour wait when she called Delta Air Lines. Fear, frustration and canceled flights evoke the aftermath of the 2001 terrorism; it was years before the airlines recovered. "It has a 9/11-like feel," the CEO of Southwest Airlines said. And it comes on top of the worries and canceled flights caused by the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max. Working in the airlines' favor this time is the fact that there are fewer, larger companies remaining, with plenty of cash in reserve. And passengers will want to return to normal as soon as possible, a consultant said: "People want to get back to shaking hands and meeting." (Read more coronavirus stories.)