Air travel has fallen dramatically since the novel coronavirus prompted social distancing and travel restrictions earlier this year, reducing the flights each week from major airports across the globe.
Since early March, the number of departures from world airports has fallen just over 60%, according to a Times analysis of millions of aircraft radar records released by Flightradar24, an industry tracking firm.
California hasn't escaped the pandemic's toll: Departures from its commercial airports plummeted by roughly 65% during this period, largely clearing the skies of passenger traffic in recent weeks.
Flightradar24; California Department of Transportation
At Los Angeles International Airport, one of the nation’s busiest hubs, about half of the normally scheduled flights haven’t taken off in recent weeks. Flights from San Francisco’s flagship airport have been canceled or postponed at similar rates.
That share has started to change as airlines are adjusting schedules to include fewer daily flights, according to the radar data.
The figures reflect “the most steep and potentially sustained decline in air travel history,” Sean Burton, president of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners said recently. "Clearly, the magnitude of what we are facing is immense."
The changes at the state's airports — brought on by travel restrictions and other physical distancing guidelines — are evident across North America.
Share of flights canceled or postponed at large airports in United States and Canada and in Europe, March 3 to April 26
Decrease in flights at each of North America's largest airports. Those in California have also experienced similar declines during that time.
Decreasing traffic at state hubs
The total number of departures to other large airports from LAX, for example, has declined by about 75% since March 3, when more than 1,000 flights left during a 24-hour period on that Tuesday. The same weekday on April 21 saw roughly 270 departures.
The collapse among specific carriers is startling.
American Airlines, among the busiest at LAX, saw its departures drop 89% during that time. Others grounded their fleets at similar rates.
San Francisco International Airport's figures are similar. United Airlines was hardest hit there in terms of raw decrease in flights, dropping from 187 to 26 during that same period. Overall, the airport has experienced a 87% decline in departures, according to the Times’ analysis.
Other major California airports have also experienced significant decreases, including San Diego International (71%), San Jose International (76%) and Sacramento International (61%).
Steep decline for major airlines in California
|Name||March 3||April 21||Change|
|Delta Air Lines||140||13||-91|
Note: Airline tables sorted by pre-coronavirus flight volume.
|Name||March 3||April 21||Change|
|Delta Air Lines||50||9||-82|
Data source: Flightradar24
Reduced flights, far fewer passengers
While the number of flights is one way to measure the virus’ impact on the airline industry, another is the number of passengers passing through airports.
On a typical early spring day, the U.S. Transportation Security Agency screens more than 2 million people. But fewer than 200,000 have passed through security in recent weeks, according to the agency.
TSA passenger screenings in 2019 versus 2020.
Transportation Security Administration
Many global airports have experienced sharper declines. The skies across Italy, a country ravaged by the disease in March, have largely cleared.
In Venice, for example, only a handful of flights remain in operation after air traffic plummeted — more drastically and earlier than other airports in Europe — between March 8 and March 10. That's when several northern provinces were placed on lockdown after infections and deaths there spiked.
The skies above Los Angeles still have flights, traffic buoyed by cargo shipments in which social distancing is presumably less of a concern. But the impact can clearly be viewed by tracking planes as they depart.
Orange County's flights have also dropped substantially. At John Wayne Airport, departures are down 75% from March 3 to April 21, another Tuesday. Southwest Airlines, for example, went from 38 flights to nine during that time.
Each line on the map shows a flight path leaving commercial airports across the state. More than 4,500 departed on March 3, according to Flightradar24.
By April 21, only about 1,300 took off — a 69% decrease.
San Francisco International Airport had about 600 flight departures on March 3.
By April 21, the number had dropped to fewer than 100, a roughly 86% decrease.
This map shows departures at LAX on March 3, a Tuesday, weeks before concern about coronavirus prompted government officials to impose physical distancing. Darker shades appear when flight paths overlap.
By April 21, several weeks into travel restrictions, the number of flights had dropped significantly.
The decline at John Wayne Airport in Orange County has been even more dramatic during the same period.
Flights at that airport decreased by 75%.
Some smaller airports in the state and region, meanwhile, fared relatively better.
At Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino County, cargo traffic has helped limit the reduction to 38%. Southwest Airlines and American Airlines reduced flights there by 73% and 62%, respectively, but United Parcel Service and Federal Express declined only slightly, according to The Times' analysis.
Flights at Stockton Metropolitan Airport declined just 35%, followed by Long Beach Airport Daugherty Field (50%), Fresno Yosemite International Airport (54%) and Monterey Peninsula Airport (54%).