A ground crew prepares to unload luggage from an arriving Delta Airlines flight at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on March 15, 2020 in Seattle, Washington.

John Moore | Getty Images

Delta Air Lines on Wednesday said it plans to cut its flying by an unprecedented 70%, on a year-over-year basis, after March revenue fell nearly $2 billion short of the same month last year as the coronavirus devastates demand.

Delta’s shares were down more than 30% in afternoon trading, which would be the biggest one-day percentage decline on record for the airline.

The carrier is also halting capital spending, including for new aircraft, and parking “at least” half of its fleet.

April’s revenue drop could be even worse, Delta warned. The reduced flying will last “until demand starts to recover,” CEO Ed Bastian told employees.

“Our international operation will take the largest reduction, with over 80% of flying reduced over the next two to three months,” he said.

The airline industry has been among the hardest-hit industries amid the rapid spread of COVID-19, as travelers stay home and scrap vacations and lucrative business travel.

U.S. carriers have requested more than $50 billion in government aid to weather the crisis, which executives have said is worse than Sept. 11, 2001, because there is no end in sight to the disruption.

Delta and its competitors are asking employees to take unpaid leave. So far, 10,000 Delta employees have volunteered — more than 10% of the Atlanta-based airline’s full-time equivalent workers — but it’s still not enough. CEO Bastian urged employees “to seriously consider whether a temporary leave makes sense for you and your family right now. Please remember that you will continue to have access to your health and flight benefits while on leave.”

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