Airlines Feel Deepening Impact as Coronavirus Upends Travel

United said last week that the impact of the coronavirus on its first-quarter earnings would be offset by lower fuel costs. But it withdrew its financial guidance for the rest of the year.

Since January, airlines have reduced or canceled service to Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Italy and other destinations, as demand for travel abroad slid. And while international routes make up only a small share of major airlines’ service, they are significantly more profitable than flights within the United States.

“If you fill the first- and the business-class cabin of trans-Pacific or trans-Atlantic service, you can pretty much cover all of your operating costs just from those two cabins,” said John Grant, a senior analyst at the aviation data provider OAG. To do the same domestically, an airline would have to sell about 80 percent of the seats on a flight, he said.

For some, the airline’s international loss is a domestic passenger’s gain, as carriers reallocate some of the larger planes with better seats for domestic service, according to an OAG analysis.

“If you get a good seat, you might be lying flat for an hour and a half,” Mr. Grant said.

But there are growing signs that domestic demand is starting to suffer, too, as concern spreads among the public, corporate events are canceled, and large businesses ask employees to refrain from flying.

On Tuesday, Ford Motor Company, which employs nearly 200,000 people, told workers to stop all international and U.S. domestic air travel, and to use videoconferences as much as possible for critical meetings.

General Motors, which employs about 164,000 people, has stopped all worker travel to China, Japan, South Korea and Italy, and restricted international travel to other locations only for essential matters.

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