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Airlines cut flights at Sonoma County airport as coronavirus disrupts air travel

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Commercial air carriers have begun canceling flights in and out of Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, suspending some routes through the end of the workweek.

The cancellations are the result of a sharp drop in air travel as people stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Passenger counts tumbled to all-time lows this week at the Sonoma County airport, which had enjoyed record-breaking traffic into February, Airport Manager Jon Stout said.

On Monday, 43 passengers passed through security screening, followed by 50 on Tuesday, Stout said.

“It’s not sustainable to offer as many flights as we are with 50 screened passengers,” he said.

United Airlines canceled its nonstop flight from Santa Rosa to Denver on Wednesday, a decision that will impact flights through at least Friday, and its daily route to and from San Francisco through at least Thursday. United previously committed to a second daily trip to Denver this June, though it is unclear how that may now be affected by the airline’s plan to reduce domestic flights by more than 50%.

Also on Wednesday, American Airlines canceled one of its two direct daily routes from Santa Rosa to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport through Thursday, and both flights on Friday. The air carrier has yet to inform Sonoma County airport of its plan beyond that, but Stout expects to keep at least one Phoenix flight per day in April.

American was also set to reintroduce nonstop routes from Santa Rosa to Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles on April 7, but those plans have yet to be firmed up. The daily flight to Los Angeles is likely to go on hiatus, Stout said. Its regional partner carrier, Compass Airlines, will cease operations starting in April, the Minnesota-based airline announced last week, citing “insurmountable obstacles” caused by the coronavirus.

“It still may come back later in the year, just not in April,” Stout said.

So far, Alaska Airlines — Sonoma County’s leading carrier — has yet to cancel any routes. But the Seattle-based airline reported last week a plan to cut flights 10% to 15% systemwide starting next month, and that is expected to include some flights through Santa Rosa, Stout said.

“It’s fair to say we’ll see some (flight) cuts, and we’re starting to see that, and I would expect Alaska will have some as well. How much they’re going to cut is the unknown,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com.

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