© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Charlotte Area
See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

American Airlines To Slash Service Up To 80%: 'This Is A Flood Of Biblical Proportions'

empty Charlotte airport
Steve Harrison
American Airlines said on Friday it would cut domestic capacity by up to 80% in May.

American Airlines – which has its second-largest hub in Charlotte – announced Friday that it will slash capacity over the next two months because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The airline said it would reduce domestic capacity by up to 70% for April, and then up to 80% for May, compared to the same period in 2019.

Credit Steve Harrison/WFAE
Many flights out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport have been canceled.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport was almost empty Friday.

Some security checkpoints are closed because there aren’t enough people flying to warrant keeping them open. And except for the sounds of escalators and the occasional public service announcement, it’s mostly quiet.

American Airlines 737 captain Dennis Tajer spoke to WFAE this week about what it’s like to fly empty planes.

“It’s eerie and unnerving to see airports nearly empty,” said Tajer, who handles communications for the Allied Pilots Association, the union that represents American pilots. “But at the same time, when you process that it’s important that people are doing what they need to do to contain and control this virus, it’s particularly hard to survive in an environment when no one is flying and you are flying airplanes.”

He added: “This is not a rainy day where if you just had a little bit of money you would make it through. This is a flood of biblical proportions that has affected everyone.”

Tajer, who has been flying more three decades, said March 2020 reminds him of the first few days when flying resumed after 9/11.

Credit CNBC
Dennis Tajer

“I was flying when 9/11 happened so I have a very clear memory of the immediate and horrific nature of that,” he said. “But the recovery, and the way people behaved after that -- I do see similarities already.”

Tajer said passengers have responded well to flying as the virus spreads.

“You see fellow human beings dealing with the awareness of the stress around,” he said. “And we're on the airplane and you could smell that someone had brought on bleach. And I was in the back flying deadhead, and (another passenger) said, ‘Oh that is the sweetest smell I have ever smelled on an airplane.’”

Charlotte is one of the 10 busiest airports in the world based on takeoffs and landings. But American Airlines has already grounded so many planes – it has parked dozens at a maintenance facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma – that residents under flight paths have noticed their days and nights are quieter.

And the planes that are flying are full of empty seats.

“We’re at like 20, 25% load factor,” Tajer said. “So on airplane that has 175 seats, your standard narrow-body 737 or Airbus 320. ... So let’s do the math on that: You have 120, 130 seats open.”

American said Thursday that, as of now, it has not laid anyone off or put them on furlough, though it has offered voluntary leave programs. But that could change.

Airlines were grounded only for three days after 9/11. The airlines have never stopped flying because of the pandemic, but the financial losses are expected to be much greater.

Tajer said he misses hearing gate agents tell passengers that because the flight is full, they can check their bags early free of charge.

“That PA isn’t being made anymore,” he said. “We so long to hear that PA again. And we will. We will.”

The Senate’s $2 trillion stimulus package does have good news for airlines: There is as much as $25 billion in help for American and other carriers. 

Click here for the latest coronavirus news on WFAE’s live blog.

Sign up here for The Frequency, WFAE’s daily email newsletter.

What questions do you have about the coronavirus? What has this experience been like for you? Share your questions below.