The union representing American Airlines’ pilots sued Thursday to stop the carrier from flying to China amid the coronavirus outbreak and has instructed its members to decline new assignments to fly there.
Calling the risk to passengers and crew members “unacceptable,” the Allied Pilots Association filed the suit on Thursday in Dallas. The union represents American’s 15,000 pilots.
The union cited warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. State Department discouraging Americans from nonessential travel to China. On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency.
More than 7,000 people worldwide have been infected with the coronavirus. The virus has killed at least 170 people in China, the epicenter of the outbreak.
United, American and Delta have been reducing their flight schedules between the U.S. and China throughout the week, with the cuts extending from the beginning of February through the end of April, depending on the carrier.
But the Allied Pilots Association said in a statement Thursday that it was concerned about the safety of its members, who are required to spend 32 hours on the ground between trips to comply with federal rest requirements.
“We estimate that as many as 300 passengers and crew travel to (Dallas-Fort Worth) alone from Chinese cities on each American Airlines flight,” said the union’s president, Eric Ferguson, in a statement. “To us, that level of risk is unacceptable.”
“We are directing all American Airlines pilots assigned to flights between the United States and China, other than those on return trips to the United States, to decline the assignment,” Ferguson added.
USA TODAY has reached out to American Airlines for comment.
United extends flight cancellations
Earlier Thursday, United Airlines further pared back its U.S.-China flight schedules, extending the cuts through the end of March. Earlier this week, United became the first domestic carrier to adjust its China flights.
With Thursday’s move, United will have four daily departures to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong from its U.S. hubs, down from 12. The airline will cancel 332 roundtrips from Feb. 9 to March 28, in addition to those previously planned for the first week of February.
“We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops and will adjust our schedule as needed,” United said in a statement.
The affected U.S. hubs include San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago O’Hare, Newark and Washington Dulles.
Coronavirus outbreak prompts flight cuts: United becomes first US airline to cancel China flights
American, Delta, foreign carriers cut some China flights
Delta and American announced their own schedule changes Wednesday, following United’s initial cuts on Tuesday and signals from the White House that it was considering a China flight ban.
Delta is cutting its weekly flights in half between the two countries, from 42 to 21, beginning Feb. 6 and lasting through April 30. Delta’s cuts include service between Beijing and Detroit and Seattle; as well as between Shanghai and Los Angeles, Seattle, Detroit and Atlanta. Rather than operate daily, those flights will operate three to four times a week, the airline said.
American will suspend flights from Los Angeles to Shanghai and Beijing from Feb. 9 through March 27, spokesman Curtis Blessing said. The airline operates 10 flights daily to and from Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.
Coronavirus outbreak: Delta cuts China flights through April 30, joining American, United
All three domestic airlines serving China already have issued flight waivers for travelers who don’t want to travel there, allowing them to postpone or cancel plans without the usual penalty.
Foreign carriers have also cut flights to China. British Airways and Asian budget carriers Lion Air and Air Seoul are suspending all flights to China. Several other airlines, including Finnair, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific and Singapore-based Jetstar Asia, are reducing the number of flights to the country as demand for travel drops because of the outbreak.
Scandinavian Airlines said Thursday it would halt all flights to Beijing and Shanghai from Friday through at least Feb. 9 and suspend ticket sales for flights to those cities until Feb. 29.
Meanwhile, the Madrid-based carrier Iberia announced it was halting three flights a week between Madrid and Shanghai beginning Friday and running through Feb. 29. Korean Air Lines has suspended service to China, Hong Kong and Tapei through March 27. Israel’s El Al has also suspended service between Tel Aviv and Beijing through March 25 but will continue flights to Hong Kong, Israeli media outlets Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post reported.
In Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin issued a decree ordering the temporary closure of the country’s border with China, which extends for 2,600 miles. In addition, all train traffic between the two countries, except for one train connecting Moscow and Beijing, was stopped Thursday.
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How did the coronavirus get to this point?
The epicenter of the outbreak is Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, but the disease has since spread to more than a dozen other countries, with five confirmed cases in the U.S.
The CDC and U.S. State Department have expanded their travel advisories to cover all of China.
The CDC issued a level 3 travel warning Monday, its highest level, recommending travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China. Previously only Wuhan was at level 3. The rest of China had been rated level 2, which recommends travelers “practice enhanced precautions.”
Separately Wednesday, the State Department issued its own level 3 alert for China, urging U.S. citizens to “reconsider” travel to China. Last week, it issued a level 4 alert, its highest, for Wuhan. A level 4 means “Do not travel.”
What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases, from pneumonia to Middle East respiratory syndrome, known as MERS, and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
Common signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause high fever, pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death.
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Contributing: Doug Stanglin, David Jackson, Kristen DelGuzzi, John Bacon, Dawn Gilbertson, Jayme Deerwester of USA TODAY; The Associated Press