Latin American airlines slash flights, salaries in response to coronavirus

(Reuters) - Latin America’s major airlines sharply curtailed international flights on Thursday because of the coronavirus outbreak as Panama and Colombia imposed month-long travel bans and the largest carrier cut the salaries of 43,000 employees.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of LATAM Airlines is pictured on an Airbus plane in Colomiers near Toulouse, France, November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

The bans by Panama and Colombia, effective on Monday, came after Peru, Argentina and Chile, among others, severely curtailed flights.

The measures intensified pressure on the region’s airlines, whose shares have tumbled more than their peers in other countries.

Chile-based LATAM Airlines Group, the continent’s largest, said it would halve the salaries of its 43,000 employees and its new chief executive would forego his salary for three months.

The region's No. 2 airline, Colombia-based Avianca Holdings AVT_p.CN, said it was canceling all its international flights and four out of five domestic flights in Colombia.

Avianca will go to flying just 10 planes, half of which are small turboprops, from 142.

Mexican airline Aeromexico is slashing its domestic flight capacity by 35% and international capacity by 50%, which meant grounding 40 aircraft immediately, according to an internal company memo seen by Reuters.

Panama-based Copa Airlines, the No. 3 Latin American carrier by international flights, faced an unprecedented crisis as Panama shut down international flights through its main hub.

Virtually all of Copa’s flights go through Panama City’s airport. Copa declined to comment.

Brazil’s largest domestic carrier, Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes, said on Thursday it would cut worker pay by 35% and executive pay by 40% “initially” for three months.

The developments left Latin America’s airlines facing an uncertain future and stranded many passengers who were unable to book flights to get home. The coronavirus pandemic has sickened more than 240,000 people globally and killed more than 9,800.

The region’s exception is Brazil, which has shut down land borders but not air travel. Late on Thursday, Brazil announced restrictions that remain more lenient than its neighbors, barring citizens from certain countries and regions, including the European Union, Japan and China, but not the United States.

Thursday’s developments added to many cuts already announced.

LATAM is planning to cut 70% of its flights, and Copa at least 80%, as Latin American countries have shut their borders to air travel.

Gol has slashed half its flights, but the carrier is more focused on travel within Brazil, which is not directly affected by cross-border bans.

Avianca declined to comment on potential salary cuts.

Cutting executive pay has been a common response to the coronavirus, which has upended life around the globe.

Brazilian airline Azul SA said last week it would offer some workers unpaid leave and cut executive pay by 25%.

Delta Air Lines CEO Edward Bastian said he would also forego his salary through the outbreak. Delta owns a 20% stake in LATAM.

Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun in Miami; Additional reporting by Noe Torres in Mexico City and Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia; Editing by Peter Cooney and Christopher Cushing