Along with all of the other major airlines, Delta has hit hard times during the novel coronavirus lockdown. Air travel is currently down by as much as 85% compared to the same time last year and now they’re looking for additional ways to cut costs. With that in mind, the company announced on Friday that they were going to be providing even fewer services to the public, consolidating many of their routes and eliminating flights to ten different airports. So now, if you are forced to venture out and fly somewhere, there’s an increased chance that you’ll have to take even more connecting flights or possibly face long stretches of ground travel to reach your destination. (The Hill)

Delta Air Lines announced Friday that it is suspending service to 10 U.S. airports where it also services a nearby airport until at least September in an attempt to consolidate its flights in metro areas.

“Building on the numerous health and safety measures Delta has implemented in recent weeks to protect our customers and employees, we will temporarily consolidate our operations in several markets served by multiple airports beginning May 13 while customer volume is significantly reduced,” the company said in an announcement.

“These changes will allow more of our frontline employees to minimize their COVID-19 exposure risk while ensuring convenient access to Delta’s network for those who must travel,” it continued. “Delta will continue providing essential service to impacted communities via neighboring airports.”

Yes, but when are you going to restart the flights to Wuhan? Our local market is almost completely out of pangolin meat.

All kidding aside, the airports that Delta is dropping from its schedules are Chicago Midway; Oakland International Airport; Hollywood Burbank; Long Beach; Providence, R.I., Westchester County Airport; Stewart International; Akron-Canton, Ohio; Manchester, N.H. and Newport News/Williamsburg. If you happen to live near one of those or travel to them regularly, begin making alternate arrangements.

I wouldn’t be shocked to see other airlines following suit soon. With so few people flying these days, it’s no doubt impossible to turn a profit on a flight with only a handful of passengers on board. Even for the main flights between hubs where they might sell the majority of the seats, that’s probably not enough traffic to generate the revenue required to cover all of their overhead.

Even for all of the complaints I have about the dismal service that the airlines provide these days and their shocking insistence on getting a government bailout after they spent all of their profits on stock buybacks, I do understand that they have to be able to stay profitable to survive. And having fewer airlines when this pandemic is finally over isn’t going to help matters any. It’s the lack of competition for the remaining airlines that allows them to act in such horrible ways.

Unfortunately, most of the airlines moved toward this idea of using “hubs” in a few major cities connecting to regional flights decades ago. It may have been seen as a necessary cost-saving measure at the time, but it further degraded the entire air travel experience. I happen to live in one of those unfashionable, more rural areas in upstate New York with only a small, regional airport within reasonable driving distance. In order to fly from my home to Washington DC, I have to first fly to either Detroit or Philadelphia, depending on which airline I take. That means I sometimes spend more time on planes and sitting around airports than it would have taken to drive there unless I get very lucky on the layover times between connections. If there were a major train route closer to my house I’d go with that choice every time.

The concern we should have stemming from this announcement is probably how air travel will work in the future. The novel coronavirus is changing nearly every aspect of our society and some of those changes will wind up being the new normal. If Delta determines that they can turn a profit operating out of fewer cities, what incentive will they have to go back to full service once the pandemic has passed? This change may wind up being permanent.