Detroit Metro cleared to receive fliers affected by Trump travel ban

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Washington — Detroit Metropolitan Airport is one of 11 airports cleared to receive U.S. citizens arriving from the 26 countries included in the coronavirus travel ban announced Wednesday by President Trump.

The news comes as anxiety over the virus, blamed for 40 deaths in the United States, escalated Thursday following the president's address to the nation and decisions by the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball to suspend or postpone their seasons.

Travelers at the international check-in area at Detroit Metro Airport last week.

Trump's travel ban — which the White House said applies to 26 countries in Europe with open-borders agreements forming the so-called Schengen Area — prompted a scramble among passengers at major European airports as uncertainty reigned over whether U.S. citizens traveling would be barred from returning home. 

The travel ban, which will begin at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, will apply to non-U.S. citizens who have traveled to one of the following countries in the previous 14 days: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. 

The United Kingdom, which is not part of the Schengen Area, is notably exempt from the travel ban. European leaders denounced the Trump administration for imposing the travel ban "unilaterally and without consultation."

"The Corona virus is a global crisis, not limited to any continent and it requires cooperation rather than unilateral action," European Council President Charles Michel said in a statement. 

The Trump administration has said American citizens who are currently abroad will be allowed to return, but they will be directed to a "limited number of airports" where screening can take place, including Detroit Metro.

Lisa Pierchala and Russell Taylor, both of Detroit, use hand sanitizer in line at the Delta counter about to head to New Orleans at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus.

"We're going to be screening and asking every American who returns from Europe over the next 30 days to self-quarantine for 14 days," Vice President Mike Pence, who has been tapped by Trump to lead the White House task force charged with combating the coronavirus, said in an interview with the "Today" show.

"We want to focus on those that are most vulnerable, but we also want to work on ensuring that the coronavirus is not brought into our country from Europe and we're obviously continuing to focus on areas of California, Washington state and New York where we've seen what the experts call community spread," Pence continued. 

Detroit Metro is joined on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's approved list for arrivals from countries now facing travel restrictions. Others include Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth, Newark, Honolulu, New York-JFK, Los Angeles, Chicago-O’Hare, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington-Dulles. 

Lisa Gass, a spokeswoman for the Wayne County Airport Authority, said Detroit Metro offers direct 112 flights per week to European destinations that will be affected by the travel ban, including 42 flights per week to and from Amsterdam, 28 flights per week to and from Frankfurt, 28 flights per week to and from Paris, and 14 flights per week to and from Rome. 

Gass said approximately 7% of daily flights at Detroit Metro are international flights.

Detroit Metro, which typically averages about 3 million passengers per month, said before Trump's announcement that it is bracing for a decrease of approximately 100,000 passengers for the months of February through April 2020, denting its overall traffic numbers for the first quarter. 

The airport, the nation's 19th busiest and Michigan's largest, had 3.25 million international passengers in 2019. The overseas travelers helped the airport reach a record 36.8 million overall passengers last year. 

The travel ban comes as the coronavirus takes a growing economic toll on travel companies, cruise operators and airlines; causes stock markets to gyrate wildly; and prompts talk in Washington of payroll tax cuts and industry bailouts — potentially including the airline industry.

Delta Air Lines Inc., which operates over 400 flights per day from Detroit Metro, said Thursday it is temporarily suspending seven additional routes between cities in the U.S. and Paris and Amsterdam after the planes depart on Thursday and return on Friday. None of the affected flights operate from Detroit Metro. 

Delta said it is also waiving change-fees for customers traveling "to, from or through Europe and the U.K. through May 31" following Trump's announcement. The airline said Tuesday it's cutting 25% of its international flight capacity and 15% of its domestic flight capacity because of reduced demand related to the virus.

Delta had also previously suspended all service between the U.S. and China until April 30.

In a separate statement, American Airlines, which operates about 65 flights per day from Detroit Metro, said it "continues to work closely with U.S. authorities to comply with these new orders while treating all of our customers with respect.

"American is committed to taking care of any affected customers by assisting them with rebooking options," the Dallas-based airline said. "Our team is proactively reaching out to customers who may be affected by these travel restrictions to ensure they are accommodated." 

Delta shares closed Thursday at $33.70, down 21.1%. Shares in American Airlines were trading at $13.45, down 17.3%, and United Airlines shares were trading at $37.08, down 24.9%. The Dow Jones Industrial Index closed down 10%, losing 2,352 points. And the S&P 500 lost 9.5%.  

Nicholas Calio, president and CEO of Airlines for America, which lobbies for airlines in Washington, said airlines have no choice but to make adjust in light of reduced demand and government-imposed travel restrictions.

"This action will hit U.S. airlines, their employees, travelers and the shipping public extremely hard," he said in a statement. "However, we respect the need to take this unprecedented action and appreciate the Administration’s commitment to facilitate travel and trade."

Kevin Burke, president of Airports Council International-North America, which lobbies for airports, predicted reductions in travel due to the pandemic would cost U.S. airports $3.7 billion in 2020. 

“This unexpected shortfall will strain airport operating budgets and potentially disrupt the funding of infrastructure projects already underway," Burke said in a statement. 

Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel Association, said the financial ramifications of Trump's move to close travel from most of Europe will be felt across the entire travel and tourism industries. 

"The public’s health is the top concern, but now the policy conversation must address the health of the economy," Dow said. “Temporarily shutting off travel from Europe is going to exacerbate the already-heavy impact of coronavirus on the travel industry and the 15.7 million Americans whose jobs depend on travel."

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing