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Air Canada halts all direct flights to China as virus fears spread

Virus halts China flights

UPDATE: 2:10 p.m.

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 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.

China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines, which fly into Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, have not announced plans to halt flights to Canada.


UPDATE: 6:50 a.m.

Air Canada is cancelling select flights to China as travellers shaken by the coronavirus epidemic delay or call off travel plans.

Canada's largest airline runs 33 flights a week to China and says that the capacity reduction is relatively small.

Air Canada says affected customers will be notified and offered alternate travel options.

The cancellations come as the airline allows passengers to rebook direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai free of charge, if they're scheduled for between late January and mid-February.

Air Canada 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 late March.


ORIGINAL: 6:40 a.m.

British Airways said Wednesday it is halting all flights to China, joining several Asian carriers that are either suspending or significantly cutting back service there as fears spread about a new virus that has killed more than 130 people.

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 U.K. 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.

China has cut off access to the central city of Wuhan, epicenter of the outbreak, and 16 other cities to prevent people from leaving and spreading the virus further. That has trapped more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease control measures ever imposed. The outbreak has infected more than 6,000 on the mainland and abroad.

Online flight notice boards for the Beijing and Shanghai airports showed numerous cancellations for both domestic and foreign airlines on Wednesday.

 



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