November 25, 2020

Airlines suspend, scale back direct flights to China amid virus fears

3 min read

Global airlines on Wednesday continued to suspend or scale back direct flights to China’s major cities amid an increase in travel warnings and decline in demand from passengers over the coronavirus.

FILE PHOTO: Passengers wearing masks are seen at the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai
FILE PHOTO: Passengers wearing masks are seen at the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China January 27, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

LONDON/MONTREAL: Global airlines on Wednesday continued to suspend or scale back direct flights to China’s major cities amid an increase in travel warnings and decline in demand from passengers over the coronavirus.

Fears over the spread of the flu-like virus, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, are increasing as the death toll rose to 133.

The virus appears to represent the biggest epidemic threat to the airline industry since the SARS outbreak, which at its peak in April 2003 led to a 45per cent plunge in passenger demand in Asia, analysts said.

British Airways said it suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China.

BA.com, the airline’s website, shows no direct flights to mainland China are available to book in January or February, but the airline said in an email that the cancellations were in effect until Jan. 31 while it assesses the situation.

Air Canada , which planned earlier this week to cancel just a select number of its 33 weekly flights to China, said on Wednesday that it would suspend all direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai.

The suspension, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 29, came after the government of Canada updated its travel advisory urging its citizens to avoid nonessential travel to China.

American Airlines Group Inc said on Wednesday it would suspend flights from Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai but continue flying from Dallas, and Delta Air Lines said it was halving its U.S.-China schedule to about 21 weekly flights.

U.S. officials said the White House had decided against suspending all flights to China for now, but that decision could be changed if warranted.

Among European carriers, Germany’s Lufthansa is suspending its own, Swiss and Austrian Airlines flights to and from China until Feb. 9, while Air France said it would reduce its flight schedule to Beijing and Shanghai this week.

Iberia, part of the IAG group along with BA, said it was temporarily suspending all flights to Shanghai.

Asia-Pacific accounts for about 19per cent of both Air France-KLM and Lufthansa’s available seat kilometers and 8per cent of IAG’s in 2019, Goodbody analysts said.

Carriers, including Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways, are allowing their flight attendants to wear face masks and gloves on flights to protect against fears of contagion risks.

Wesley Lesosky, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees unit that represents Air Canada flight attendants, said by email that members have the option of wearing masks and gloves on flights to China.

But flight attendants remained “concerned with the effects the virus could have if contracted, how to recognize an infected passenger and how to deal with the nervous passengers onboard.”

(Reporting by Sarah Young, additional reporting by Jessica Jones in Madrid, Allison Lampert in Montreal, Tracy Rucinski in Chicago and Jamie Freed in Sydney; editing by Kate Holton, Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis)