U.S. airlines seek billions in aid from federal government

U.S. airlines are asking the federal government for grants, loans and tax relief that could easily top $50 billion to help them recover from a sharp downturn in travel due to the new coronavirus.

Airlines for America, the trade group representing the carriers, posted its request for financial help on Monday, just as more airlines around the world were announcing ever-deeper cuts in service and, in some cases, layoffs.

The trade group is asking for $29 billion in federal grants, with $25 billion for passenger airlines and $4 billion for cargo carriers. The airlines are also seeking up to $29 billion in low-interest loans or loan guarantees, and they want federal excise taxes on fuel, cargo and airline tickets to be suspended through the end of next year.

Airlines have been reducing flights since January, starting with the suspension of flights to mainland China, where the virus outbreak began. The downward spiral in travel has picked up speed in recent days, however, prompting airlines to announce a succession of increasingly dramatic measures.

Since Friday, United, American and Delta have all announced deeper cuts in flying than they were contemplating just a few days earlier.