Delta and American on Friday temporarily canceled all of their China flights in response to the coronavirus outbreak, becoming the first domestic carriers to make the move.
As of Friday, the outbreak had infected nearly 10,000 people, most of them in China, and killed more than 200, all in China.
The U.S. State Department late Thursday elevated its China travel advisory to level 4, recommending that Americans do not travel there. That change followed the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global health emergency over coronavirus.
Tuesday White House officials said they were considering a China travel ban but said then they had not contacted the airlines. Still, if United, the other U.S. carrier serving China with nonstop flights, follows its rivals’ lead, the need for White House intervention may be moot. United has already reduced its scheduled China flights.
American cited the State Department’s updated travel advisory Friday in suspending its U.S.-China routes immediately through March 28. The airline said it would contact the affected customers directly to help them make alternate travel arrangements.
“We will continue to evaluate the schedule for March 28 and beyond and make any adjustments as necessary,” the airline said in a statement.
Atlanta-based Delta on Friday said it would suspend its U.S.-China flights from Feb. 6 through April 30.
Delta usually operates 42 flights a week between its U.S. hubs and China. It said Friday that the last China-bound flight would depart the U.S. on Monday, and the last return flight would depart China on Wednesday.
“The airline will continue to monitor the situation closely and may make additional adjustments as the situation continues to evolve,” the airline said Friday in a statement.
Late Thursday, the union representing 28,000 flight attendants at American Airlines called for the airline and the federal government to ban China flights.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants’ call followed a lawsuit filed Thursday in Dallas by the Allied Pilots Association, which represents 15,000 American pilots, to halt the carrier’s flights between the U.S. and China. The flight attendants’ union said it supported the pilots’ union’s court action.
“Until we know more and can be sure that all crew and passengers will be safe from this quickly-spreading illness, we are urgently calling on American Airlines and the federal government to err on the side of caution and halt all flights to and from China,” the flight attendants’ union said in a statement. “Our safety is not for sale. We stand with our pilots.”
American’s pilots union Thursday called on its members to decline assignments to fly China, citing the “unacceptable risk.”
“Due to the known and unknown risks associated with traveling to China right now, concurrent with the filing of our lawsuit, 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,” said the union’s president, Eric Ferguson.
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.
The latest move left United with 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.
Delta and American announced their initial schedule changes Wednesday, following United’s cuts on Tuesday and signals from the White House that it was considering a China flight ban.
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.