Cheap fares luring travelers to fly despite pandemic

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FILE - In this Saturday, March 14, 2020 file photo, travelers wait to check in their luggage at the Los Angeles International Airport. The coronavirus pandemic that's caused many Americans to avoid airports has others booking spur-of-the moment trips at dirt-cheap ticket prices. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

With the coronavirus pandemic escalating in the U.S. and overseas, Dylcia McBlackwell couldn't justify taking a single spring vacation. Air fares were so cheap, she decided to book three.

Now the 39-year-old food service worker from Chicago has tickets to fly to Denver to visit friends next month followed by a May trip to Charleston, South Carolina. After that, she's booked a flight to Costa Rica. All for a combined total of $435 for trips that might normally cost $700 or more.

“You have just one life to live,” said McBlackwell, who plans to bring wipes to disinfect the tray tables in front of her airplane seats, and perhaps her own snacks. “Are you going to spend it sitting in your house scared? I’d rather be out enjoying it.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Regardless, airlines are seeing bookings plummet and cancellations soar as fear of infection causes many Americans to avoid flying. Travel to the U.S. has been barred from most of Europe, China and Iran. Domestically, business conferences, sporting events, music festivals and other large public gatherings have been scrapped or postponed.

Airlines have been slashing flight schedules, especially on international routes, to cope with downward-spiraling demand from fearful leisure customers and a slowdown in business travel. One industry trade group has warned the pandemic could cost airlines worldwide up to $113 billion in revenue.

The proliferation of empty airline seats has some travelers making spur-of-the-moment ticket purchases to take advantage of steeply discounted prices.

“Travel is one of my favorite things to do and I’m always looking at flights to different places,” said Nick Williams of Muncie, Indiana. “I have never seen flights this cheap before.”