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Trump: Flights are still needed to ferry healthcare workers, military during coronavirus crisis

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, announces a national emergency to further combat the Coronavirus outbreak, at a news conference Friday, March 13, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Although it’s been suggested that flights be cut between coronavirus hotspots around the country, President Donald Trump said Monday he recognizes it’s important to maintain airline service to support movement of the military and medical workers.

“We need those flights for emergency use, for military people,” Trump said at his daily press conference on the crisis. “We need some flights for medical people – and there are very few flights.”

He acknowledged that while flights are largely flying empty, the alternative would be to use government planes, not airlines, so essential workers can fly between cities.

Trump’s response came after a question about the statement he made last week in which he indicated that cutting flights between hotspot cities is under consideration by the administration. The issue had been raised by Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, who had noted the number of direct flights between cities with big outbreaks.

“Does this make sense in terms of aggressive containment?” Graham asked on Twitter.

Trump said domestic travel restrictions are still being contemplated, but on Monday provided some justification for keeping flights in the air.

The CEO of one major airline agrees with Trump’s reasoning.

Southwest Airlines’ Gary Kelly said he’s frequently asked, by employees and others, why the airline is still flying planes so empty. In a video to employees over the weekend, Kelly said the airline needs to fly because first responders and other people still need to travel.

“We need to be there for those who still have to travel for essential work that’s happening,’’ he said.

Kelly said the airline is moving first responders, whom he called “our medical heroes,’’ and medical supplies to the frontlines of the pandemic.

Under the coronavirus stimulus package, airlines benefiting from $50 billion in aid are required to maintain a minimum amount of service on their route network. The airlines have been dramatically cutting the number of flights, though, because there are so few passengers.

Planes are flying with only 10% to 20% of their seat filled and have reduced by flight schedules by up to 80%, said Nicholas Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, a trade association for major air carriers on March 27 in a statement to laud the stimulus package.


© 2020 USA Today