Major U.S. airlines cancel China flights as government takes action

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – All three major U.S. airlines announced the cancellation of flights to mainland China on Friday after the U.S. State Department elevated a travel advisory over concerns about the coronavirus.

FILE PHOTO: Delta Airlines jets sit at terminal at Reagan National Airport outside Washington in this August 19, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Larry Downing

The trio of carriers, United Airlines Holdings Inc, Delta Air Lines Inc and American Airlines Group Inc, had already moved to reduce flights to China amid a sharp drop in demand as the virus spreads.

Their announcements on Friday came ahead of a call with U.S. officials to discuss the flights.

United and Delta said they would continue to operate outbound flights until Feb. 5 and Feb. 3, respectively. United, the largest U.S. carrier to China, said that would “help ensure our U.S. based employees, as well as customers, have options to return home.”

American, meanwhile, said it was halting all mainland flights as of Friday through March 27, but would continue to fly to Hong Kong.

The Trump administration was considering new restrictions but it was not clear if it would move forward yet. Some airline officials worried that if they did not voluntarily halt flights it would prompt the government to take formal action, potentially complicating any subsequent flight resumption.

The United States told citizens on Thursday not to travel to China due to the epidemic that has infected nearly 10,000 people and been declared a global emergency.

Airline crew had urged carriers stop flights to the country, with American’s pilots filing a lawsuit on Thursday seeking an immediate halt and the union representing Delta and United flight attendants demanding clear direction from the U.S. government.

United said it was suspending its flights to Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai until March 28 but would continue to operate one daily flight between San Francisco and Hong Kong.

Delta’s suspension was set to last through April 30.

U.S. airline shares have posted heavy losses this week on concerns of the financial impact of the virus.

Other airlines that have stopped their flights to mainland China include Air France KLM SA, British Airways, Germany’s Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic.

Major Chinese carriers were still operating flights to and from the United States as of Friday.

Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Tom Brown

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