World News

U.S. rejects most Spirit, JetBlue requests to halt additional flights

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Department said on Thursday it had rejected most requests by JetBlue Airways Corp <JBLU.O> and Spirit Airlines <SAVE.N> to halt additional flights in the wake of the pandemic that has sent passenger traffic down by 95%.

The department last week issued final rules setting minimum flights requirements for airlines receiving government assistance allowing airlines to dramatically cut and consolidate but not eliminate service.

Spirit must resume flights to the New York City area and outstate New York airports after it suspended service to all New York, New Jersey and Connecticut airports it serves in early April, including New York LaGuardia, Newark, New Jersey; Hartford, Connecticut; Niagara Falls, New York, and Plattsburgh, New York.

Airlines can petition to temporarily eliminate service to airports. The department is reviewing requests from another eight airlines.

The department said it would allow the airlines to stop flying to Puerto Rico, but would require JetBlue to keep flying to nine destinations, including Albuquerque, New Mexico; Portland, Oregon; Bozeman, Montana; Reno-Tahoe, Nevada; Dallas/Fort Worth; Sacramento, California; Houston; and Minneapolis.

Spirit must resume flights to a total of about two dozen locations, including Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Kansas City, Missouri; Indianapolis; and the San Francisco area within a week of getting government assistance.

Spirit said it would “fully comply with the U.S. Department of Transportation requirements and will continue to take care of our Guests during this unprecedented time.”

JetBlue did not immediately comment.

This week the U.S. Treasury had reached agreements in principle with 10 major airlines as it moves to award $25 billion in cash grants to help carriers with payroll costs. The carriers could get the funds as early as this week and will need to repay 30% in a low-interest loan over 10 years and grant the government warrants equal to 10% of the loan.

JetBlue said this week it expected to receive $935 million in payroll assistance. Spirit said it has not yet reached agreement with Treasury on payroll assistance but said Tuesday it expected to agree on terms soon.

United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Delta Air Lines and others have sought exemptions before resuming some flights, especially some seasonal flights to vacation destinations.

American Airlines <AAL.O> wants to delay resuming flights to airports that serve Colorado ski resorts such as Vail and Aspen, as well as to several Hawaiian island airports.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese, Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis)