Aviation Industry Lends a Hand in Coronavirus Fight

From food donations to free flights, airlines provide support to affected communities

By Kevan Hoffman

Published May 18, 2020

Read Time: 3 mins


With hundreds of millions of Americans directly affected by the coronavirus, airlines and airports have stepped up to help their communities adjust to the social and financial impacts of the pandemic.

The crisis has devastated the aviation industry. Still, with airplanes sitting idle on runways and airport terminals mostly empty, the industry has found multiple ways to lend a hand during the crisis.

For example, as major metropolitan centers like New York City and Seattle experienced a spike in cases, Delta Air Lines—along with JetBlue, Hawaiian and several other carriers—offered to fly medical volunteers to areas most affected by the coronavirus pandemic at no cost.

“New York is at the epicenter of the fight against COVID-19, and we’re working with the state to make sure travel is not a barrier for medical volunteers who want to help,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian in a company press release. Delta reported it has carried 350 medical professionals to nearly 30 states as well as Canada since April.

And after food service was reduced and even eliminated on many flights as a way to limit personal interactions and slow the spread of the virus, Delta donated 100 tons of food to hospitals, community food banks and other organizations. Southwest did the same, giving away $400,000 worth of food.

Also, many airlines, like United, have begun offering free or heavily discounted trips to employees of charities and nonprofits, as well as students, veterans and other people trying to reunite with loved ones.

Ground support

Not all the generosity takes place in the air, however.

With many of their planes sitting idle, American Airlines technicians, who typically spend their days keeping  aircraft safe and airworthy, began using their skills to produce face masks and other personal protective equipment.

“It’s good to be able to contribute to the wellbeing of the country,” said Paul Long, a Tulsa-based Aviation Maintenance Technician.

American has been working with Stop the Spread, a coalition of CEOs and business leaders helping to support the government’s response to COVID-19.

Members of the Delta Flight Product team work to produce face shields for hospital workers. (Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

Similarly, airports are tapping their relationships with community organizations and charities to support local residents.

Last month, Pittsburgh International Airport partnered with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to distribute 50 pounds of packaged food each to more than 800 vehicles. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the airport teamed up with 412 Food Rescue to collect unused food items from airport concessions that would otherwise be thrown away.

Transportation Security Administration personnel at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., in partnership with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, created a food pantry in an effort to offer assistance to those in the airport community.

Other airports have taken more entertaining approaches to helping out. Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, Wis., created a drive-through light display for families in need of an ephemeral break from being stuck at home.

And more than 20 airports, including PIT, participated in a virtual music festival organized and hosted by Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in the “Live Music Capital of the World” to support musicians who have struggled financially—you can watch it here.

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