LONDON: British Airways has suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China, one of the most important names in aviation to do so, as concerns about the impact of an expanding coronavirus on global travel increase.
BA.com, the airline’s website, shows that there are no direct flights to mainland China available to book in January and February, but the airline said in an email that cancellations were in effect until January 31 while assessing the situation .
Direct flights to the autonomous region of Hong Kong governed by the Chinese were not affected.
The BA measure followed some cancellations of flights to China by the US airline United Airlines Holdings Inc, which blamed a sharp drop in demand.
Fears about the spread of the flu-like virus, which originated in the central city of Wuhan, are growing as the death toll rose to 132 and countries warned their citizens about trips to China.
On Tuesday, Britain’s Foreign Ministry advised against “almost essential” trips to mainland China due to the outbreak of coronavirus.
BA said that customers traveling to or from China in the coming days could get more information on their website.
“We apologize to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and the crew is always our priority,” BA said in a statement sent via email on Wednesday.
British airline Virgin Atlantic said its flights to Shanghai will continue to operate as scheduled.
British Airways generally flies daily between London Heathrow Airport and Beijing and Shanghai.
The temporary suspension of flights occurs days after BA offered passengers the possibility of canceling or re-booking tickets to China during February, a measure that could have resulted in their large long-distance planes flying half empty.
According to analysts, IAG, the owner group of BA and Iberia, is less exposed to the Asia-Pacific region in terms of capacity compared to rival European airlines such as Air France-KLM and Lufthansa.
Asia Pacific accounts for approximately 19% of the available kilometers of Air France-KLM and Lufthansa seats and 8% of IAG in 2019, Goodbody analysts said.