Airlines push up, extend China flight suspensions as coronavirus spreads

Looking up at airplane landing

U.S. and international airlines continued to suspend flights to China on Friday as public health authorities try to contain the coronavirus that has infected nearly 10,000 people worldwide.

The announcements followed a U.S. State Department warning for Americans not to travel to China. Thursday, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak an international public health emergency. The move is designed to help standardize responses around the world. In the U.S., a sixth person tested positive for the virus.

Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) said it will temporarily suspend all U.S. flights to China Feb. 6 through April 30.

The last China-bound flight departing the U.S. will leave on Monday, Feb. 3, with the last return flight back to the U.S. departing China on Feb. 5. The airline said it will continue to monitor the situation closely and may make additional adjustments based on evolving conditions.

American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL) said it is suspending operations to and from the Chinese mainland Friday through March 27.

Delta and American fly to Beijing and Shanghai.

The fluid situation has caused airlines to keep updating their schedules. On Tuesday, United Airlines (NASDAQ: UAL) said it was suspending some flights to China due to low demand. Thursday, it cut eight daily departures from the U.S. to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, effective Feb. 9 through March 28, with no planned reductions for service to Chengdu. With even fewer people booking flights and the State Department raising its travel advisory, United on Friday said it is suspending operations between hub cities and Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai Feb. 6 until March 28.

United said it will continue to operate one daily flight between San Francisco and Hong Kong.

United and American said they will continue to operate limited flights to ensure U.S.-based employees and customers that want to leave China can do so.

Lufthansa Cargo said it continues to operate freighters to Hong Kong International Airport and has a modified schedule for Shanghai Pudong International Airport. Lufthansa Group previously suspended all passenger flights to China through Feb. 9.

Earlier, Air France said it would suspend all flights to the Chinese mainland through Feb. 9 and operate special flights starting Friday using volunteer crew to enable customers and employees to exit the country safely.

British Airways has canceled flights to and from Beijing and Shanghai until Feb. 29. Flights to and from Hong Kong remain unaffected.

Virgin Atlantic’s daily flight between Heathrow International Airport and Shanghai has been indefinitely suspended, but the airline continues to operate to Hong Kong.

In a research note, Cowan equity analysts forecast the new coronavirus would reach a minimum of 40,000 people even if the growth in new cases peaks soon.

There were only 118 confirmed cases outside of China as of Friday morning. More than 213 people have died, mostly in, and around, the city of Wuhan where the virus first materialized.

Economists say the global economic impact will depend on how long the outbreak lasts. But as FreightWaves previously reported, the air cargo industry is already suffering from the reduction in capacity on passenger planes. Health concerns for crews, limited availability of logistics services, and shuttered factories also indicate China business will dry up for carriers and shippers alike. All-cargo operators, however, will be in high demand to move pent-up inventory once the crisis subsides.

Meanwhile, the UPS Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Atlanta-based express delivery and logistics giant, said it is providing free air transportation for 2 million respirator masks and 11,000 protective coveralls to China to combat the spread of the coronavirus in Wuhan. The UPS-operated flight is being coordinated through the Red Cross Society of China with the help of nonprofit health organizations in the U.S.