Air Canada is halting all direct flights to China following the federal government’s advisory to avoid non-essential travel to the country due to the coronavirus epidemic.
The abrupt suspension – effective Thursday and slated to last until Feb. 29 – threatens to dent revenues as the airline scrambles to regroup amid the disruption.
“It definitely will have a commercial impact. There’s no doubt about it. China is a major market for Air Canada,” said John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University and head of its Global Aviation Leadership Program.
Canada’s largest airline, the carrier makes 33 flights a week to Beijing and Shanghai from Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. The potential for longer-term harm looms if travel demand stays near ground level into the spring.
More than 50 million people in 17 cities are now under lockdown as China rolls out quarantine measures unprecedented in modern history.
Air Canada said Wednesday it had begun to cancel select flights as customers delayed trips and called off travel plans due to fears of the spreading epidemic.
“Three or four hours later, everything shut down,” Gradek said. “It kind of shows you the degree to which this is a very, very fluid situation.”
Affected customers will be notified and offered options that include travel on other carriers where available, or a full refund, Air Canada said.
The carrier is also waiving rebooking fees for flights that go through a partner airline to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, until March 29.
Canada has looked increasingly to East Asia as a growth market, with the number of annual visitors to Canada from China shooting up by a factor of 10 since 2000 to 757,000 in 2018.
Air Canada has seen its shares fall by about 10 per cent since authorities on Jan. 20 confirmed human-to-human transmission of the illness, which has caused 132 deaths and infected more than 6,000 people.
The Montreal-based carrier said in a statement that it remains in consultation with the Public Health Agency of Canada, Transport Canada, and Global Affairs and will adjust its schedule as appropriate.
“Air Canada regrets this situation and apologizes for the serious disruption to our customers’ travel plans.”
China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines, which fly into Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, have not announced plans to halt flights to Canada.
The novel coronavirus has killed 132 people and infected more than 6,000 on the Chinese mainland and abroad.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne says Canada has a plane preparing to fly Canadians out of the province in China at the centre of an outbreak of a new coronavirus.
Earlier today British Airways halted all flights to China and American Airlines suspended Los Angeles flights to and from Shanghai and Beijing. They joined several Asian carriers that are either suspending or significantly cutting back service to the country as fears spread about the coronavirus.
The coronavirus has now infected more people in China than were sickened in the country by the SARS outbreak in 2002-03. The number of confirmed cases jumped to 5,974, surpassing the 5,327 in mainland China from SARS.
Air India and South Korean budget carrier Seoul Air are also halting all flights to the country, and Indonesia’s Lion Air plans to do the same. Other carriers including Finnair, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific and Singapore-based Jetstar Asia are slashing service.
Beyond disrupting travel, the move will heighten concerns about the broader economic impact of the virus outbreak. Hotels, airlines, casinos and cruise operators are among the industries suffering the most immediate repercussions, especially in countries close to China.
BA said it was immediately suspending all flights to and from mainland China after the British government warned against unnecessary travel to the country amid a virus outbreak.
The airline operates daily flights from London’s Heathrow Airport to Shanghai and Beijing. It took the measure a day after Britain’s Foreign Office updated its travel advice on China, warning against “all but essential travel” to the mainland, not including Hong Kong and Macao.
The U.S. has not put into place travel restrictions, though Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said, “it’s important to not take anything off the table” when he was asked about that potential.
American Airlines said Wednesday it will suspend flights between Los Angeles and both Shanghai and Beijing from Feb. 9 through Mar. 27. The airline cited “the significant decline in demand for travel to and from China.” Flights from Dallas-Fort Worth will continue, the airline said.
China has cut off access to the central city of Wuhan, epicentre of the outbreak, and 16 other cities to prevent people from leaving and spreading the virus further.
Online flight notice boards for the Beijing and Shanghai airports showed numerous cancellations for both domestic and foreign airlines on Wednesday.
- Air Seoul, a budget airline, became the first South Korean airline to suspend its fights to mainland Chinese destinations apart from Wuhan, stopping its flights to the cities of Zhangjiajie and Linyi.
- Indonesia’s Lion Air said it has cancelled more than 50 flights to China well into February. The flights are from five international airports in Manado, Surabaya, Jakarta, Batam and from Denpasar, in Bali, to 15 airports in China. The suspension will be phased in gradually and continue until further notice.
- Hong Kong airlines are cutting the number of their flights to the mainland by about half through the end of March in response to government virus-control efforts.
- Cathay Pacific Group said flights to 24 mainland destinations would be reduced to 240 weekly. The company owns Cathay Pacific Airways, cargo carrier Air Hong Kong, Cathay Dragon and Hong Kong Express.
- Air India is suspending Delhi-Shanghai flights, which operate six times a week, from Friday until Feb. 14.
- Finland’s Finnair, which has actively promoted its position linking Asian and Western destinations, said it was cancelling three weekly flights to Beijing Daxing International Airport through late March, as well as its twice-weekly flights to Nanjing.
- Jetstar Asia will temporarily suspend flights to the Chinese cities of Hefei, Guiyang and Xuzhou starting Thursday through the end of March because of a drop in demand.
- South Korea’s second-largest carrier, Asiana Airlines, will temporarily suspend flights to the Chinese cities of Guilin, Changsha and Haikou starting next month.
- Korean Air, South Korea’s biggest airline, said it is also considering grounding some of its flights to mainland China as passenger demand drops. Korean Air had operated four flights a week to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, before suspending them on Jan. 23.
- Taiwan’s Eva Air announced a partial cancellation of flights to and from mainland China for two weeks starting Feb. 2. In addition, the airline also has stopped providing towels, magazines and table cloths, and is limiting use of blankets and pillows on its flights.
- Kazakhstan, which shares a long border with far-western China, announced Wednesday that it plans to suspend all flights, train and bus traffic and to halt issuing visas to Chinese nationals. Before Wednesday’s suspension, there were 24 flights a week from Kazakhstan to China, including a daily flight to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.
- Japan’s JAL said it had not changed its flight plans, while German carrier Lufthansa said it was monitoring the situation “very closely” and would if necessary make changes in consultation with the authorities.
With files from Christopher Reynolds at The Canadian Press.
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