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Airlines Plead for State Relief After Virus Pummels Travel
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Airlines Plead for State Relief After Virus Pummels Travel

Airlines in Europe and the U.S. cut flights, idled planes and drafted plans to eliminate jobs, while seeking government support to weather the most brutal downturn in the industry’s history caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.K.’s carriers and airports will need as much as 7.5 billion pounds ($9.2 billion) in support, Virgin Atlantic Airways Chief Executive Officer Shai Weiss said in a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, according to a person familiar with the matter.

In the U.S., American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., United Airlines Holdings Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. have said they’re discussing potential aid from the government, without providing details.

Germany and France are weighing financial support to help get Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Air France-KLM through the crisis. The head of Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA acknowledged that the discount carrier is at the brink and pleaded for help. The Italian government is considering pumping 300 million euros ($333 million) into struggling Alitalia SpA and may take over the airline, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

Upend Travel
The economic effects of the viral outbreak have slammed the airline industry as people scrap travel plans and countries place restrictions on passengers from nations with the highest levels of infection. President Donald Trump’s decision to set curbs on European flights capped a tumultuous week and is expected to upend a trans-Atlantic market that’s usually the world’s most lucrative.

On Sunday, the French government said it would gradually reduce domestic air, rail and bus operations to limit non-essential travel in the nation that has already shut cafes, restaurants and many stores. The measures will include pulling high-speed train service and flights between cities, a further blow to Air France-KLM’s business.

“We need to limit long distance transport to a strict minimum,” Elisabeth Borne, the French minister who oversees transport, said at a press conference. Some terminals at Orly and Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airports will also be closed, she said.

Trump on Saturday added the U.K. and Ireland to the list of continental European countries facing temporary travel restrictions. Before they were included, travel curbs on Europe affected about 7,300 flights to the U.S., or more than 2 million one-way passenger tickets over the one-month period, according to Cirium, which tracks traffic. The U.K. and Ireland adds about 4,300 more flights to the total.

“It is a crisis of global proportions like no other we have known,” British Airways chief Alex Cruz said in an internal memo on Friday and seen by Bloomberg. It’s worse than the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s, 9/11 in 2001 and the financial meltdown of 2008-2009, he said…

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