Single passenger flights and the daily woes of airlines
WASHINGTON: When Reuters photographer Carlos Barria boarded American Airlines flight 4511 from Washington Reagan National Airport to New Orleans on Friday for an assignment, he was the only passenger on the 76-seat jet.
"There were some awkward moments," Mr Barria said.
Like when the gate agent announced a formal boarding process only to remember that Mr Barria was the sole passenger who would board, or when the pilot approached his seat to personally explain a delay in take-off due to a mechanical issue, rather than speak over the PA system.
The two flight attendants invited Mr Barria to sit in a first-class seat and went through the safety demonstration for him alone. "I felt I had to pay attention," he said.
Nearly vacant flights have become the norm for US airlines, despite a drastic reduction in the number of planes they put in the air each day as passenger traffic has diminished in the midst of the pandemic gripping countries across the globe.
American Airlines flew 119 flights out of Washington Reagan National on Friday; eight of those departures had only one passenger (including Mr Barria's) and many had just a handful, an American official said. On the same day last year, American operated 254 flights out of the same airport.
"Pretty soon we'll even run out of people to cancel on US airlines," American's senior vice-president of network strategy Vasu Raja told Reuters.
The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 129,763 travellers on Friday versus 2.48 million on the same day a year ago, according to daily data it is providing on its website.
US airlines, who say they are burning through cash every day, have applied for government aid meant to help them meet payroll and ensure they have trained staff available once the health crisis subsides and demand recovers.
One of the flight attendants on Mr Barria's flight said she would be flying from New Orleans on to her hometown Miami, where she was due to take her father for cancer treatment after her four-day trip rotation that included sleeping in hotels every night.
By the end of Mr Barria's flight, he felt a camaraderie with the crew. "I was thanking them for what they do and they were thanking me for what I do," he said. - REUTERS