British Airways (BA) has suspended all direct flights to and from China, one of the biggest names in aviation to do so, as worries grow about the impact of a spreading coronavirus on global travel.
BA.com, the airline’s Web site, shows no direct flights to China are available to book this month and next, but the airline said in an e-mail to Reuters that the cancelations were in effect until tomorrow while it assesses the situation.
Direct flights to Hong Kong were unaffected.
BA’s move followed some flight cancelations to China by United Airlines Holdings Inc, which blamed a sharp fall in demand.
BA said customers due to travel to or from China in the coming days could find out more on its Web site.
“We apologize to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority,” BA said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
British Airways usually flies daily between London’s Heathrow Airport and Beijing and Shanghai.
The temporary suspension of flights comes days after BA had offered passengers the chance to cancel or rebook tickets to China next month, a move which could have resulted in its large long-haul jets flying half empty.
UK-based airline Virgin Atlantic said its flights to Shanghai would continue to operate as scheduled.
According to analysts, IAG, the group which owns BA and Iberia, is less exposed to the Asia-Pacific region on a capacity basis compared with rival European airlines such as Air France-KLM and Lufthansa.
Asia-Pacific last year accounted for about 19 percent of both Air France-KLM and Lufthansa’s available seat kilometers and 8 percent of IAG’s, Goodbody analysts said.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd (國泰航空) yesterday said it would cut capacity to China by 50 percent or more from today.
Several South Korean carriers have halted flights to Chinese cities, including Asiana Airlines Inc, Jeju Air Co and Jin Air Co, while Finnair Oyj and Air Macau Co are among others taking similar steps.
Bloomberg Intelligence analysts James Teo and Chris Muckensturm said China Southern Airlines Co (中國南方航空) could face the biggest blow among the country’s “big three” carriers as it controls 30 percent of Wuhan’s seat capacity, with routes to and from the capital of Hubei Province accounting for 3.6 percent of its seats.
That compares with 1.5 percent for Air China Ltd (中國國際航空), which is also vulnerable, the analysts wrote in a report.
Passenger traffic at airlines such as Cathay and China Southern plunged 32 to 37 percent in the first half of 2003, because of SARS, Teo and Muckensturm said.
This time, “international airports’ swift implementation of preventative measures can help blunt the impact,” they added.
China Southern shares fell as much as 6.7 percent as trading resumed in Hong Kong following the Lunar New Year break, while Air China slid 5.5 percent and China Eastern Airlines Co (中國東方航空) dropped as much as 7.7 percent.
Indonesia’s Lion Air Group, Southeast Asia’s biggest carrier by fleet size, is halting all its flights to and from China as of Saturday, spokesman Danang Mandala Prihantoro said yesterday, adding that dozens of flights would be affected on routes to 15 Chinese cities.
Russia’s Urals Airlines said it had suspended some services to Europe popular with Chinese tourists, such as Munich, Paris and Rome, as well as to Sapporo, Japan, until the end of winter, it said in a statement.
Passengers on some flights to China will have to make do without hot meals, blankets and newspapers.
China Airlines Ltd (CAL, 中華航空) said it was encouraging passengers to bring their own drinks bottles and would limit reusable items by replacing them with disposables.
CAL and its regional arm, Mandarin Airlines Ltd (華信航空), on Monday stopped serving hot meals and have replaced tablecloths and napkins with paper towels on cross-strait and Hong Kong flights.
They have also stopped providing blankets, pillows, towels, magazines and newspapers, while drinks and disposable headphones are supplied only on request.
CAL group member Tigerair Taiwan Co (台灣虎航) said duty-free sales would not be available.
Cathay Pacific said hot towels, blankets and magazines would not be offered on flights to and from mainland China from today until further notice.
Thai Airways is spray-disinfecting the passenger cabin and cockpit on all flights returning from China and high-risk destinations.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg and AFP
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