CHICAGO/SHANGHAI/SEOUL — Airlines including United Airlines, British Airways and Air Canada said they were cancelling flights to China as demand fell sharply and global companies told their employees not to travel on deepening fears over the spread of a flu-like virus.
Air Canada said it was cancelling some of its 33 weekly flights to China and the capacity reduction is relatively small. Canada’s largest airline said affected customers will be notified and offered alternate travel options.
On Wednesday, British Airways also said it is halting all flights to China.
Chicago-based United said it was suspending 24 U.S. flights to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai between Feb. 1 to 8 due to a significant drop in demand.
Air India and South Korean budget carrier Seoul Air are also halting all flights to the country, and Indonesia’s Lion Air plans to do the same. Other carriers including Finnair, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific, Air India and Singapore-based Jetstar Asia said they are slashing service.
The coronavirus that originated in the city of Wuhan has killed at least 106 people in China and spread across the world, rattling financial markets.
China has cut off access to Wuhan and 16 other cities to prevent people from leaving and spreading the virus further. The outbreak has infected more than 6,000 on the mainland and abroad.
Other airlines said they were adjusting schedules as companies reassessed the risk of travel to China.
Korean Air, South Korea’s biggest airline, said it is also considering grounding some of its flights to mainland China as passenger demand drops. Korean Air had operated four flights a week to the Chinese city of Wuhan before suspending them on Jan. 23.
South Korea’s second-largest carrier, Asiana Airlines, said it will temporarily suspend flights to the Chinese cities of Guilin, Changsha and Haikou starting next month. South Korean budget carrier Air Seoul said it will halt all flights to China, while Taiwan’s China Airlines rescheduled and cancelled some flights to China until Feb. 10.
Taiwan’s Eva Airways also said some flights to China may be cancelled. In addition, the airline also has stopped providing towels, magazines, table clothes, and is limiting blankets and pillows for passengers in flight.
Singapore-based Jetstar Asia said it will temporarily suspend flights to the Chinese cities of Hefei, Guiyang and Xuzhou starting Thursday through the end of March due to a drop in demand.
Germany’s Lufthansa pointed to subdued bookings to and from the country and said it was monitoring the situation “very closely.”
Finland’s Finnair said it was cancelling three weekly flights to Beijing Daxing International Airport through late March, as well as its twice-weekly flights to Nanjing. It will continue operating flights to four other mainland Chinese destinations, including Beijing Capital Airport.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways said it would be progressively reducing capacity to and from mainland China by 50 per cent or more from Jan. 30 to the end of March, in line with a government directive as well as market demand.
Lion Air said it has cancelled more than 50 flights to China well into February. The flights are from five international airports in Denpasar, Manado, Surabaya, Jakarta and Batam to 15 airports in China.
Kazakhstan, which shares a long border with far western China, announced Wednesday that it plans to suspend all flights, train and bus traffic and to halt issuing visas to Chinese nationals. Before the Wednesday’s suspension, there were 24 flights a week from Kazakhstan to China, including a daily flight to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.
In Canada, the federal government warned citizens Monday to “avoid all travel to the province of Hubei” in central China, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
The United States also warned that Americans should reconsider visiting China, while Britain advised against all but essential travel to mainland China. South Korea also advised its citizens to stay away.
Big companies warning workers
Facebook became the first major U.S. company to announce a travel suspension after the U.S. government’s warning, saying it had asked employees to halt non-essential travel to mainland China and to work from home if they had travelled there.
Europe’s biggest bank, HSBC, banned all staff travel to Chinese-ruled Hong Kong for two weeks and to mainland China until further notice, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.
The British-based lender, which has the largest presence among foreign banks in China, also asked staff who have recently visited the country to undergo a self-imposed 14-day quarantine. The virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days.
U.S. rival Goldman Sachs Group imposed similar measures, according to a memo seen by Reuters.
In South Korea, home appliances maker LG Electronics put a complete ban on travel to China and has advised employees on business trips in the country to return home as quickly as possible, a company spokeswoman said.
In Germany, auto supplier Webasto, which has 11 sites in China, including in Wuhan, has halted all corporate travel to and from China after an employee was infected.
Japan’s Honda said it recommended employees avoid travel to China, while Nissan said it plans to evacuate its Japanese staff and their families in Wuhan via a government-chartered flight.
International SOS, a medical and travel security services firm that advises companies on travel, said its guidance for now was that business travel to China outside Wuhan’s province of Hubei could continue. But this could be updated if there were major flight cancellations throughout China and more disruptions to ground transport, International SOS regional security director James Robertson said.
With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press