European Airlines Suspending Flights to China on Virus Scare

 - January 29, 2020, 2:27 PM

Airlines based in Europe have begun to temporarily suspend services to China due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, following similar decisions taken by their counterparts in North America and Asia.

British Airways announced Wednesday morning that it suspended all direct flights between the UK and mainland China with “immediate effect” after the country’s Foreign Office warned against all but essential travel to mainland China. The carrier operates one daily direct flight from London Heathrow to Beijing Daxing Airport (PKX) and one to Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG). BA said it would halt services to PKX and PVG until January 31 while it assesses the situation. Its flights to and from Hong Kong remain unaffected.

Lufthansa Group followed suit later in the day and said that it would suspend all flights to and from mainland China operated by Lufthansa, Swiss, and Austrian Airlines until February 9. Each of the carriers will fly to its respective destinations in China for “one last time” to give passengers and crew the opportunity to return to Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, Lufthansa group said in a statement via Twitter. It added that for “operational reasons” it would suspend bookings for flights to mainland China until the end of February. Flights to Hong Kong will continue.

The suspension of all group travel from China prompted Finnair Tuesday to cancel its three weekly flights between Helsinki and PKX between February 5 and March 29, and its two weekly flights between Helsinki and Nanjing between February 8 and March 29.  “These cancellations are needed to manage the impacts of the recent suspension of group travel by Chinese authorities, which have a pronounced impact on the load factors of our Beijing Daxing and Nanjing flights,” noted the airline’s COO Jaakko Schildt. Finnair, for now, continues to operate daily to Beijing Capital Airport and to Shanghai, twice a day to Hong Kong, and twice a week to Guangzhou, though it said it continues to monitor the situation closely.  

Following an internal crisis meeting earlier today, KLM initially decided to maintain its normal flight schedule to China but a couple of hours later opted to adapt “the network in view of the decline in bookings.” The Dutch airline on Wednesday suspended direct flights from its hub in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to Chengdu and Hangzhou as of January 30, suspended direct flights to Xiamen as of January 31, and reduced the number of weekly flights to Shanghai from 11 to seven 7 times a week from January 30. The flight adjustments will remain in effect until at least February 29. The number of weekly flights to Beijing remains at seven.

KLM highlighted that information and guidelines of various national and international health and aviation authorities prompted “no reason to suspend the entire operation to China.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to declare the 2019-nCoV outbreak a global health emergency, though the body will reconvene its emergency committee on Thursday to determine whether to change its advice on travel and trade restrictions. The WHO on Wednesday reported 6,065 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus infection, leading to 132 deaths. Only 68 confirmed cases were detected outside of China, in 15 countries. The WHO reported no deaths outside of China.