KEY POINTS

  • Delta and American Airlines have suspended service to China.
  • AA piots and stewardesses earlier filed suit to halt flights
  • Pilot unions were concerned that many pilots are at an age, over 60, where they would be more vulnerable to catching virus

 

In the wake of a China travel advisory issued by the U.S. State Department over the coronavirus outbreak, both American Airlines (AAL) and Delta (DAL) said on Friday they will suspend all U.S.-China flights.

They became the first major U.S. carriers to halt service to China, a step already taken by various airlines in Europe and Asia.

United Airlines (UAL) has also suspended flights to China.

The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global health emergency on Thursday. As of Friday morning, at least 200 people have been killed by the virus and nearly 10,000 have been infected. All the deaths have occurred in China, but the virus has now been reported in 19 other countries.

“Based on the U.S. Department of State’s recent increase of the China Travel Advisory to a Level 4 [Do Not Travel], American is suspending its operations to and from the Chinese mainland beginning [Friday] through March 27,” American Airlines stated. "We will continue to evaluate the schedule for March 28 and beyond and make any adjustments as necessary.”

Delta said it will suspend all U.S. flights to China beginning 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 will continue to monitor the situation closely and may make additional adjustments as the situation continues to evolve,” Delta said in a statement.

Delta presently operates 42 weekly flights between the U.S. and China.

Lori Bassani, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, or APFA, said the union was happy with American Airlines’ decision. “The health and safety of our crew members and customers are always our main concern,” said Bassani in a statement. “This concern is magnified with the coronavirus, a fast moving, possibly deadly virus that has become a worldwide concern.”

APFA, which called for the flight ban on Thursday, represents 28,000 flight attendants at American Airlines.

On Thursday, the Allied Pilots Association, the union that represents 15,000 American Airlines pilots, filed a lawsuit demanding a halt to all flights to China, citing fears over the spread of the virus.

The lawsuit also noted that the average age of pilots working out of American’s Dallas-Fort Worth-based hub is 61, citing that older adults are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they become infected with coronavirus.

"Due to the known and unknown risks associated with traveling to China right now, concurrent with the filing of our lawsuit, we are directing all American Airlines pilots assigned to flights between the [U.S.] and China, other than those on return trips to the [U.S.], to decline the assignment," said the union's president, Eric Ferguson. “The safety and well-being of our crews and passengers must always be our highest priority -- first, last, and always. Numerous other major carriers that serve China, including British Airways, Air Canada, and Lufthansa, have chosen to suspend service to that country out of an abundance of caution."

American Airlines operates about 56 monthly flights between Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Chinese airports. Ferguson added that as many as 300 passengers and crew travel from China to Dallas-Fort Worth on each flight and "to us, that level of risk is unacceptable."

"Individuals and governments are trying to make decisions based on speculation and minimal information," said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director the national center for disaster preparedness at Columbia University. "We're trying to sort of grope our way through this. There's no playbook here."

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