Coronavirus: AA, United suspend Hong Kong flights, Cathay Pacific trims China capacity

Feb 4, 2020

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Cathay Pacific Airways is slashing capacity by nearly a third as flight suspensions due to rising fears of the coronavirus outbreak spread to Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong-based carrier’s decision to suspend flights comes as passenger numbers have plummeted by half, the South China Morning Post reported Tuesday. Capacity to mainland China will be cut by 90%.

Cathay Pacific is not alone in suspending flights. Fellow Oneworld partner American Airlines has suspended its daily flight between Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and Hong Kong (HKG) through Feb. 20, and its daily service between Los Angeles (LAX) and Hong Kong through March 27, American said Thursday. It previously planned to resume both routes on Feb. 21.

In-depth: What does the coronavirus outbreak mean for travelers?

And, late Tuesday afternoon, United said it would do the same, suspending, its operations to Hong Kong from Feb. 8 through Feb. 20. United also cited decreasing demand.

“We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops and make any necessary changes to our schedule,” United said in a statement.

Hong Kong had been largely excluded from the suspensions impacting flights to mainland China in recent days. While some frequencies were reduced, for example United Airlines is suspending two of its three daily flights, many long-haul services to the city continued.

The news of American and Cathay Pacific’s flight cuts also comes after the first death attributed to coronavirus in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, United — the largest U.S. carrier to China and Hong Kong — has moved the date of its flight suspension for mainland China forward by a day to Feb. 5, the Star Alliance carrier told employees in an internal newsletter viewed by TPG Tuesday. The airline cited a drop in demand and the U.S. State Department’s decision to issue a Level 4, or do not travel, advisory for mainland China.

Delta Air Lines, which suspended all of its flights to China on Feb. 2, does not serve Hong Kong.

Related: What are airlines doing with the jets idled by the China flight suspensions?

Even Chinese carriers are beginning to suspend flights. China Eastern Airlines has suspended some of its flights to North America through March 27, and Hainan Airlines all of its North American flights indefinitely beginning Feb. 2.

Air China also revealed plans to trim North American flights, saying in a filing with the U.S. DOT that it intends to slash its U.S. network to just two trans-Pacific routes in an effort to maintain “essential air connectivity.”

China Southern Airlines has not yet made an official comment on its plans for North America service.  

More: Air China slashes U.S. network to ‘essential’ routes amid coronavirus outbreak

China had confirmed more than 20,000 cases of coronavirus on Monday, with 425 deaths or a mortality rate of 2.1%, according to a Cowen report.

The impact of the outbreak on airline’s finances is as yet unknown. However, with dozens of idled wide-body jets — high-cost assets that need to be flying to generate revenue — the impact will likely be significant for those with a large exposure to mainland China.

“There really is not much these aircraft can do,” Atmosphere Research travel industry analyst and president Henry Harteveldt told TPG Monday. “This is going to cost the airlines a chunk of change.”

Updated with American Airlines’ extended Los Angeles-Hong Kong suspension.

Featured image by Vivek Prakash/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Related: China Eastern, Hainan Airlines suspend U.S. flights over coronavirus concerns


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