U.S. Airways, Continental Airlines and United Airlines parent UAL Corp temporarily cut service to Mexico on Friday, citing lower demand for flights to the country hardhit by a flu outbreak.
U.S. Airways said late on Friday they would cut 38 percent of its scheduled flights to 12 cities in Mexico between May 10 and July 1.
Earlier on Friday, Continental and United also announced reductions effective Monday in their service to Mexico, which has reported 176 deaths from the new strain of Influenza A (H1N1), originally called swine flu.
Chicago-based United said it would cut flight departures to Mexico by 60 percent in May to just 24 flights a week. In June, United, which has less than 2 percent of its consolidated capacity dedicated to the country, will offer 52 weekly flights.
Continental said it would cut flight departures by about 40 percent and also halve its capacity on flights.
The Houston-based carrier offers more seats than any foreign airline into and out of Mexico, according to data provided exclusively to Reuters by airline schedules consultant Innovata.
Prior to these reductions, Continental said it operated an average of 450 weekly flights to the country.
Continental said the reductions amount to about 2 percent of its systemwide capacity for May, compared with its original schedule.
The three U.S. carriers join other global carriers that have reduced links to the country. Air Canada said it was temporarily suspending operations to popular resorts such as Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, and Spain's Air Europa said it would cut charter flights.
AMR Corp, parent of American Airlines has said they are closely watching the situation.
The World Health Organization says experts do not yet know enough about the new flu strain to say how deadly it is and how long any potential pandemic may last.
Worldwide 15 countries have confirmed cases, the latest being South Korea.
DOCTORS ON PLANES
Germany's Deutsche Lufthansa AG announced contingency plans to cut flights and drop routes amid the crisis, and said it would place doctors on its planes to Mexico in hopes of detecting any flu infections early.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned earlier this week that the flu outbreak would compound financial problems for airlines, which are struggling as the global recession depresses travel demand.
Earlier this week, cruise operators Carnival Corp and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd said they were temporarily halting port calls by their vessels in Mexico.
The Amex airline index rose 3.6 percent on Friday.
(Reporting by Karen Jacobs; Additional reporting by Tim Hepher, Kyle Peterson and Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Brian Moss, Bernard Orr)