With local governments and public health officials in Asia, Europe and North American scrambling to find sensible policies to contain what is still an unknown but alarming flu epidemic centered in China, airlines are wasting no time in pulling back flight schedules to that region.

Hong Kong Airlines and Cathay Pacific have now been joined by Air Canada, Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, America Airlines, Iberia, Finnair, Asiana and some smaller, regional carriers.

Cathay Pacific posted a release on January 23 that read: “In light of the evolving situation in Wuhan, Cathay Dragon is temporarily suspending flights to and from Wuhan effective January 24, 2020 until 29 February, 2020. We are monitoring the situation closely and will continue to coordinate with the health authorities in Hong Kong and in all the ports to which we operate flights.”

Then, less than one week later, that message changed to: “In light of the Government Response Plan of novel coronavirus infection and in view of market demand, Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon will be progressively reducing the capacity of our flights to and from mainland China by 50% or more from 30 January to the end of March, 2020.”

Delta Air Lines made their move last night. In a release to news bureaus, the airline announced a reduction of flights between the U.S. and China by 50 percent.

“To maintain options for customers, the airline will continue to operate from all current U.S.-China gateways. Today, Delta operates 42 weekly flights between the U.S. and China, including daily service connecting Beijing and Detroit and Seattle, and Shanghai and Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles and Seattle. The airline will reduce this schedule to approximately 21 weekly flights, offering three to four weekly flights on the same routes,” the announcement noted.


The reduced schedule will run through April 30. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, United Airlines cancelled some 24 U.S. flights schedules to and from China -- routes originating in San Francisco, Newark, Dulles and Chicago's O'Hare International airports with destinations in Beijing and Shanghai. Change fee waivers will be offered for disrupted flight plans.

Air Canada, too, responded following the Government of Canada's Advisory. To avoid non-essential travel to mainland China it is temporarily suspending all direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai effective today until February 29, 2020. Lufthansa Group suspended its Lufthansa, SWISS and Austrian Airlines flights to/from mainland China this week until February 9, and is continuing to stay apprised of the situation. British Airways is also suspending flights but taking it day by day.

In a statement on its website BA said:

“Following Foreign Office advice against all but essential travel to mainland China we have temporarily suspended our flights to and from Beijing and Shanghai with immediate effect, until Friday January 31, while we assess the situation. Flights to and from Hong Kong remain unaffected. This situation will remain under review and we will continue to provide regular updates.”


Surpassing SARS

The World Health Organization and leaders in China are discussing next steps in battle against coronavirus outbreak. Chinese officials have confirmed more than 7,700 cases of the puzzling illness that seems to have originated in Wuhan China. That number surpasses China’s 5,327 cases and 349 deaths from SARS, a respiratory infection that spread viciously across China in 2002 and 2003, killing 774 people in 17 countries. So far, China is reporting 170 deaths from the disease.

U.S. Less Affected

In the US, however, risk of contracting an infection from the Coronavirus remain exceedingly low and remain only among those who have traveled to China in the past few weeks. This winter’s strain of seasonal influenza remains much more immediate.

According to a recent report from National Public Radio, “Already this flu season (which generally begins in the U.S. in October and peaks during winter months), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 15 million people in the U.S. have gotten sick with flu. More than 150,000 Americans have been hospitalized, and more than 8,000 people have died from their infection. And, this isn't even a particularly bad flu year.”