May 6, 2020 / 3:12 PM / 19 days ago

Brazil's top airline Gol says planes flew full in April despite pandemic

SAO PAULO, May 6 (Reuters) - Brazil airline Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes said on Wednesday its planes were nearly as full in April as they were a year ago in spite of the coronavirus crisis, bucking an industry trend of empty planes.

Gol said in its monthly traffic report that its planes had been 80% occupied on average during the month, compared with 81% in April 2019.

Like most airlines around the world, Gol is a shadow of its former self, operating minimal flights while keeping most of its fleet grounded.

Still, reports in the United States and elsewhere have highlighted empty flights that sometimes carry just one passenger, despite similar capacity reductions.

Gol’s results were in sharp contrast with those of Aeromexico, the region’s only other airline to have reported April traffic figures. Aeromexico said its planes were 48% occupied in April, compared with 82% a year ago.

In the United States, Delta Air Lines has blocked all of its middle seats to allow for some social distancing in its flights. That means that a plane with three seats on each side of the aisle cannot be more than 67% occupied.

Gol exclusively operates Boeing 737 planes, which have that configuration, but it has not announced a plan to block its middle seats. The carrier said most passengers were wearing masks voluntarily and that it was making this a mandatory requirement as of May 10.

Gol, Brazil’s largest domestic airline, had no immediate comment.

Brazil has been hit hard by the new coronavirus, amid criticism that the right-wing government of Jair Bolsonaro has done little to fight it while minimizing its severity.

The governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest state, has complained frequently that too many citizens are disobeying quarantine recommendations. On Tuesday, Brazil raised its coronavirus death count to nearly 8,000 and reported 114,715 cases.

Gol said it operated about 39 flights a day in April, 94% fewer takeoffs and landings than a year ago.

In a conference call with investors earlier this week, Gol said government officials were overrepresented in its flights compared to normal times.

Gol’s Chief Executive Paulo Kakinoff said he was aware that there could be a spike in coronavirus cases within the company, but that “it is not happening so far.”

“And most of our crew members are still being exposed every single day,” Kakinoff said, noting there were eight coronavirus cases at Gol. (Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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