Wow: British Airways Suspends All Mainland China Flights

Filed Under: British Airways

Airlines are increasingly taking precautions with the Wuhan coronavirus. First we saw airlines introduce travel waivers for flights to Wuhan, then we saw them introduce travel waivers for all flights to China, then we saw some airlines reduce capacity to China, and now one airline is taking it much further. I suspect other airlines will follow.

Governments now advise against all but essential travel to China

Yesterday the Centers For Disease Control and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, among other authorities, advised against all but essential travel to China, given the development of the Wuhan coronavirus. This is a pretty serious warning.

British Airways suspends all flights to mainland China

With immediate effect, British Airways has canceled all flights to mainland China through the end of February 2020.

While we’ve already seen airlines reduce service to China in the past few days (just yesterday United updated their schedule to reflect reduced service to Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shanghai over the next week), a major international airline cutting service to mainland China for an entire month is drastic. I suspect British Airways is only the first of many airlines to do so.

The British Airways planes currently enroute to Beijing and Shanghai will operate their return flights, and that will be the end of mainland China flying for British Airways for now:

  • Those crews operating flights to Beijing and Shanghai will turn right around as passengers (talk about a long day!)
  • Those British Airways crews based in Beijing and Shanghai who are currently in London will have arrangements made to get them back home to China

This is a significant move on British Airways’ part. It’s one thing to reduce capacity due to a lack of demand, but it’s a whole different story to cancel service for an entire month for the safety of crews.

I suspect that British Airways won’t be alone in making this decision, and that other airlines will follow.

Not to be too cynical, but I do think this drastic decision may go beyond just safety, though that’s a convenient reason to give:

  • Many airlines bleed money on China flights in winter, and this current situation only makes it worse
  • British Airways is definitely erring on the side of caution with the crew safety argument, though at the same time I’m sure this is the right move financially as well

What do you make of British Airways- decision to suspend Beijing & Shanghai flights, and do you think some/most other airlines will follow their lead?

Given the latest information on the coronavirus situation, my thinking changed, and I ultimately canceled my flight through Beijing. For more on the rapidly-developing situation, check out these posts:

  1. Oop, commented before reading this entirely. That’s embarrassing. Why do airlines bleed money on China flights during the winter?

  2. The prevention of a pandemic is paramount I’m sure.

    But the Chinese economy is in a lull and the economic fallout from this virus will likely compound the situation. This may make the airlines position on the matter less complex.

  3. A worrying signal for Hong Kong… That means all passengers are getting rerouted to HKG flights of BA back to LHR

  4. So what are they doing to get everyone who is in China now due to come back on return flights in the next month?

  5. @Betz
    Virgin Airlines will continue flights to Hong Kong as scheduled, although passengers are able to rebook or obtain a refund free of charge.

  6. Hmmm….I’m guessing the BA crew members forced to deadhead – same duty time – back to London will NOT be pleased.

  7. @Super VC10
    They would be even less pleased if they had to stay overnight at an airport hotel in China under the current situation. 😉

  8. @Georges
    The U.K. government is arranging evacuation flights for EU citizens in China (some other governments are doing the same for their people).

    But if you’re a British citizen who’s still in China you’re there against the U.K. government’s advice, so it’s now unreasonable to expect BA to fly you out. Their staff have rights, too.

    Like for Australia, U.K. citizens being flown home will go straight to 14 days quarantine.

  9. @The nice Paul You need not worry about me, I’m safely in the UK, I was only asking out of curiosity. But I think you’re wrong, the British Government are evacuating the 200 or so British citizens in Wuhan, not the whole of China. There are probably thousands of British currently in China as a whole. If someone had arrived in China (not necessarily Wuhan) a few days or a week ago, either for a holiday or on business, how do they get back? Is BA arranging flights on other airlines so they can get back to the UK? Or do they stay in China indefinitely? By the way, I was booked to go in April and already decided not to.

  10. I see your point; but the UK travel advice is not to travel *anywhere* in China unless it’s essential, *and* anyway not to go at all to Wuhan.

    If you arrived in China only a few days ago you should already have been having second thoughts (just like Lucky did for his trip), and if you were sensible you would have started to develop ahad a Plan B in the back of your mind. A trip halfway round the world is not a booze-up week in the Costas, so I’d imagine most travellers would be responsible enough to have had at least some initial thoughts about where this might be going. People have anyway been given notice by the FCO that they needed either to sign-up right now to the evacuation flights or to make their own arrangements.

    Equally, British people still in China (other than Wuhan) do have some options, including taking regional flights and connections from there. But, frankly, after the FCO advice, most people would (or should) be getting out with all haste rather than bemoaning the cancellation of BA flights.

  11. Not enough. Immigration should have access to flight itineraries from all passengers coming in since now they will fly from China into another country and then connect to the UK. The country announced a 2 week quarantine for passengers coming from China.

  12. The FCO advice basically says if you don’t have essential reasons to be in China then don’t go.

    BA (and VS) are following that advice.

    If they ignored it and still operated the flights you’be running a “WOW BA ignores Governemnt warning, puts money over life” article.

  13. “Cathay Pacific has also suspended inflight trolley services, changed some aspects of its meal offer, and stopped giving out hot towels, pillows, blankets and magazines in an effort to prevent the virus spreading.”

    I saw this in the BBC and am curious what it will look like in practice. Has anyone flown Cathay since the change was implemented? No bedding in F? Hand delivered meals for everyone in Y?

  14. Service isn’t cancelled for ‘an entire month’. Only until the end of the month. Today’s the 29th. That’s 2 days. Makes a big difference in the above reaction/summary. What comes next will be another story…

  15. Simon Caulder on ITV News just now: “BA have just said that they are re-booking passengers on other airlines out of China”.

  16. Wonder how much this decision was motivated by the 787 fleet troubles.

    Probably a good excuse to cut two routes that are burning money right now and gain operational stability on the rest of the network.

  17. @Chucky

    While they haven’t cancelled February service yet, they have zeroed out inventory on all mainland China flights through March 1st. That’s a pretty good indicator that they are likely to cancel these flights but don’t want to deal with rebooking all passengers yet.

  18. This is actually a pretty big deal. I was in China in early January (having heard nothing about the virus) and have a booked R/T itinerary with Air China connecting in PEK (but not staying in China) mid-June. Hope they get the situation under control and that this doesn’t develop to something worse than SARS etc.

  19. Wow. Given how lunar new year was just this past weekend, I’d imagine there are folks in China who planned to fly BA to go back to Europe. It does seem drastic. I wonder when Virgin Atlantic will follow.

  20. Are you sure flights are canceled until end of Feb? British Airways is saying only until end of Jan for now. Future flights are under review.

  21. @ Roland the UK Government has basically said don’t fly to China. BA are following that advice,

    The 787 engine issues is nothing to do with the decision.

  22. I don’t understand why US hasn’t done the same.

    With that said, as bad as this outbreak is, more people are dying from normal seasonal flu. Over 8,000 Americans this year alone. I doubt the number of people who die from this outbreak will be anywhere near that number globally.

  23. It’s spreading a lot faster than SARS did and currently has a fatality rate an order of magnitude higher than the flu in the USA, so why do you people claim it’s no more deadly than the common cold? It seems to me the precautions are absolutely warranted.

  24. This morning the company I work for (13K employees worldwide) just restricted all work-related travel to China.

  25. Here are some confirmed stats thru credible media sources , I have previously stated in another post how serious this thing is and will be. But people need to STOP taking this thing lightly, not only avoid travelling to China, but also avoid any large collection of Chinese people in your home town (chinese restaurants/supermarkets), especially in gateway cities. Oh yeah, before anyone throw the race card on me and any Chinese national that are still blinded by your unconditional love to the motherland, I am a Chinese-American and I have family there. My advise right now to everyone as if you are my family, STAY AWAY FROM CHINA and CHINESE RELATED ESTABLISHMENTS!

    1)The death count on this thing is rising by the day, it is now 132. For reference, SARS back in 2005-2003 only killed 774 worldwide. SARS epidemic lasted more than a year, we are barely a month into this outbreak.

    2) Confirmed reported cases are at 5974 and increasing 25% every day. However, reported cases are far less than actual/potential cases because China is short on test kits and medical personal at ground zero. They are still turning away people and telling them to stay quarantined at home.

    3) The US has already chartered a plane out
    of Wuhan for its citizens (thru Anchorage with a preliminary checkup of those passengers before the plane heads to southern California). Other countries that have evacuated or plan to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan include France, South Korea, Japan, Morocco, Germany, Kazakhstan, Britain, Canada, Russia, the Netherlands, Myanmar and Australia.

    4) Besides BA, Indonesian Lion air and Seoul air have suspended all flights in/out of China. More airlines will sure soon follow.

    5)Both Hong Kong and Macau have suspended all modes of public transportation (trains/ferries/buses) from mainland China. People that have been to Wuhan recently have either been denied entry or deported.

    6)Germany, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Japan now have confirmed cases of people that were not direct carriers that have been in China. Meaning this thing has spread to non Chinese natives.

    7)Starbucks, McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut have closed operations in most stores in China. Other major companies have told employees to work from home when work resumes on 2/2 after the Chinese new year break, which was pushed back from 1/29. Literally everywhere in China is like a ghost town on the streets right now, everyone is staying home.

    8) Anti-Viral masks are experiencing price surge in China, a pharmacy in China was reported selling 850 rmb (~120 USD) EACH, and subsequently fined by the government. Where I live in southern California, EVERY target/Walmart/Walgreen’s/CVS are out of stock, all bought up by people mailing them back to China.

    China has quarantined about 60 million people in Wuhan and its suburbia, albeit too late. Reports are surfacing that health officials in Wuhan never reported to the central government when this thing first broke out in early December. And for a rare instance China is not suppressing the news. However China has vulnerability in handling this situation and is not quite open to foreign help. If the outbreak continues to leak into foreign countries, China should and might be pressured by other countries to close off its borders. If that doesn’t happen, countries should turn away anyone that has been in China. I personally have been advising family members and close friends that have travel visas to prepare for an escape before a potential lockdown.

    There has been and will be many amazing fares to/from China, my suggestion is not to be tempted to do any mileage run, the risk is definitely not worth the reward. I am not rich by any means, and I would not go near China right now if offered a boatload of money.

  26. Typos:

    SARS was from 2002-2003, not 2005-2003

    Pharmacy in Beijing selling expensive masks

    To all those that still compares this lightly to the common flu: Nothing about this epidemic has been proven, it’s a giant snowball of unknown. I wish you good luck.

  27. @Jackie: Wait until someone in your country or neighborhood gets it, then speak again. Some researchers claimed it’s not as deadly as SARS, that I can’t comment on, but this time the virus is contagious even in incubation period, meaning you can get it from someone who has yet to develop any telltale symptoms. The next thing that happens is the infected people will quickly outnumber the healthcare workers, not to mention the huge strain on hospital facility required to keep these patients in isolation.

  28. @Sir Fly A Lot – of course most of these masks (at least those available in supermarkets) will do absolutely nothing to stop you catching it! It may slightly reduce transmission from someone infected but even that is only marginal.

  29. As a Chinese-Canadian who survived the SARS crisis, I’m disturbed by the comments from “Sir Fly A Lot”. Has anyone checked the facts or their Medical Officers of Health? How is this pass editorial standards?

    I highly suggest reading this article before associating every Chinese to this one type of coronavirus:

  30. @Jackie

    The common cold has a virtually nil mortality rate. The common flu has a mortality rate of 0.1% in the US. This disease has a mortality rate of 2.5% so far, and since we’ve never seen it before we have no idea how it may mutate as it spreads.

    If you think a mortality rate 25 times higher than the flu is the same as a common cold, then I wouldn’t want to catch the colds you’ve had.

    Having said that, it’s true BA def will have been happy to jump first and save some money on unprofitable routes. Seems like we should expect other airlines to follow soon.

  31. Contain, restrict/cancel and quarantine. It is the most logical course of action to avoid millions more suffering or dying.

  32. @Kerry @Sir Fly a Lot

    Any amateurish calculation of mortality rate is to be distrusted at this point, including yours. You have no idea how many people are actually infected, so you can’t calculate mortality with any accuracy, full stop. My guess is that there are tens or hundreds of times more people infected who have ignored what feels to them like a common cold and have overcome the disease without medical intervention or testing.

    Put another way, in 2018 the common flu killed more 80,000 Americans, hospitalized 800,000, and is estimated to have infected something like 45 million Americans, according to the CDC: Nobody knows for sure because generally healthy people do not go running to the hospital every time they get the flu, which has no cure and no reliable vaccine.

  33. @Sir Fly a Lot You seem quite fearful of the increasing rate of confirmed reported cases. Is it possible that what you’re noticing is an increase in detection through increased testing, versus runway spread? If the incurable and unvaccinatable common flu is a template, there are many many more cases of Wuhan coronavirus infection than 5,000, you just haven’t found them yet (and probably won’t).

    China is playing this ultra-cautious, as they should be. But really, reading over your list of things to be scared about and advice to avoid all things Chinese (or Chinese American), I wonder how you can feel comfortable going out at all. Wuhan Coronavirus has killed 132 people in the world so far, or so you report. Common flu often kills more than 650,000 in a year, including 60,000+ Americans. Common flu can’t be cured, it can’t be completely vaccinated against, and it continually mutates into new and mysterious forms (if I may borrow the comically inaccurate language of the New York Times: we’ve completely sequenced the Wuhan coronavirus, for crying out loud). You live in SoCal: shouldn’t you avoid all restaurants, airplanes, pools, and public places generally if you embrace this kind of fear?

  34. @Lucky please confirm with your sources. Little Eskimos inside the igloo sent some news.

    There will be a blanket ban on all US-China flights out in the next few days. And will be in effect few days afterwards.

    I’m sorry for doing a disservice to the public. This goes against my wishes but eventually everyone would find out. This might be the last window of opportunity to leave China for months.

  35. As a physician that was traveling to HKG multiple times during the SARS epidemic, I totally agree with this.
    The virus is out of the cage, but we can certainly do things to not make the spread any worse.
    A total quarantine of China will be virtually impossible to maintain, but we simply don’t have enough accurate data about the spread inside China nor do we know enough about the virus itself at this point. An abundance of caution is completely reasonable IMO.

  36. @Lucky how about the safety of crews members here in the USA that are still flying to China. Can the airlines force crew members to fly these lines they were already awarded, or can they opt out without sacrificing their job security?

  37. @Eskimo

    Ditto. In events like these, it doesn’t make me feel good, nor would I say, I told you so.

    However, I feel the need to mention getting nightly door dash is really not good for anyone, especially kids.

  38. @the nice Paul, FML

    The least you can do is to check BAs website

    “ Summary
    Following Foreign Office advice against all but essential travel to mainland China we have temporarily suspended our flights to and from Beijing and Shanghai with immediate effect, until Friday 31 January, while we assess the situation.

    Flights to and from Hong Kong remain unaffected. ”

  39. “The [UK] Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Hubei Province due to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak. If you’re in this area and able to leave, you should do so. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China”

  40. “Not to be too cynical, but I do think this drastic decision may go beyond just safety, though that’s a convenient reason to give:” You know China has frozen travel for a population roughly the size of the UK, that as it stands now there are 7,919 confirmed cases worldwide, including 170 fatalities (not to mention its a government with a history of under reporting the true numbers), that the WHO has upgraded the risk to the world from the virus to high and is likely to declare this a global health emergency later today? Next thing you know you will be claiming this is just the flu and that the flu kills more people. Except that isn’t true and this is more contagious and has a much higher fatality rate. Its time to stop down playing the threat here. The suggestion that BA did this for financial reasons is absurd.

  41. @Kendor Just some things to note re: your comment. First off the most up to stats have are there are currently 7,919 confirmed cases worldwide, including 170 fatalities. Secondly, I want to address the flu argument and why its highly misleading. The season flu has a fatality rate of .01%. The corona virus has a fatality rate of 2%. The season flu has a R0 of 1.3 (basically an average of how many people an infected person will infect). The R0 for the corona virus? By most estimates around 2.5. So you have something that is much more contagious than the seasonal flu, something we do not have any vaccines for (unlike the flu) and something with a higher fatality rate. The number of deaths from the seasonal flu are not relevant, because if this virus spreads the number of fatalities will be much higher than the flu. There is a reason why governments are reacting the way they are. Acting like this is nothing more than the flu is misleading to people. The thing most likely to lead to this spreading around the world is indifference from people who don’t think its a big deal. If this mutates it could become much deadlier. Who knows how this will continue to develop of the next weeks and months but we are nowhere near the peak in some population centers.

  42. @Bill
    It’s actually really kind of you to try to explain but, in the long term, it’s probably better for humanity if the people who don’t believe those damn public health doctors (so-called “experts”) are encouraged to go to the centre of the pandemic because, you know, this is no worse than the common cold.

    Darwinism should be allowed free rein here. People should live or die by their own judgement.

  43. @The nice Paul

    I consulted with an infectious disease expert last week and she neither told me to go the center of the outbreak, nor did she advise me to run around hysterically indulging paranoia, hysteria, and tinfoil conspiracy theories, as many in the public and media seem wont to do. She said, among other interesting things, that the value of a mask when there’s no public around is minimal/nonexistent.


    As I mentioned before your calculations about lethality are not useful, because you are basing them off of incomplete or nonexistent information. You don’t know the actual number of people infected by coronavirus — it’s surely way more than the number of hospitalized cases — so you can’t accurately calculate mortality. For that matter, you don’t accurately know the number of people infected by seasonal flu, either — as with coronavirus many people do not go to hospital, and so any calculation of number infected is a guess.

    If the Wuhan coronavirus is anything like the flu, then we actually have quite a serious problem, because the flu is widespread, incurable, mutable, unvaccinable, often lethal, and highly infectious. It kills hundreds of thousands of people a year, even many of those who seek medical attention in first-world countries. Some years in the USA, it kills about 7% of those who are hospitalized for it. I don’t know why you minimize it in the way you do. The open question and the personality question is why the speculative risk of what the Wuhan coronavirus might hypothetically do bothers you so much, while the present and immediate risk of the common flu does not bother you more.

  44. @ Kendor
    “nor did she advise me to run around hysterically indulging paranoia, hysteria, and tinfoil conspiracy theories”

    I’m pretty sure neither Bill nor I have advised anyone to do that.

    Your point about not knowing the infection rate is of course true — just as we don’t know the actual infection rates for flu, colds, or pretty much anything else. So public health experts have developed ways of estimating. These are by definition estimates, and they may ultimately be way off base (the infectiousness of Ebola was strikingly over-estimated, as was the spread of AIDS), but they’re the best tools we have.

    The alternative — on display by sone commenters on here — is a faith-based response, usually sneering, always along the lines of “I don’t know anything but I’m sure it’s not as bad as anyone says”.

    Just like Brexiteers in my own country don’t *know* what will happen after Brexit, but are still absolutely certain they’re right.

    With stuff like the Coronavirus it seems to me a bit of short-term over-caution is a better response than gambling it’ll be ok (even if the latter is statistically more likely).

  45. @The nice Paul

    What some of us are sneering about is people’s mistaken impression that the flu pandemic is well in hand and completely managed — zen calm — while at the some time they are completely losing their minds with fear about the as-yet comparatively mild spread of coronavirus. Or the belief that because SARS was a coronavirus and Wuhan is a coronavirus, that Wuhan should be mentioned in the same breath as SARS (common cold is also often coronavirus.) Some of the reaction seems a combination of ignorance and latent racism. I’ll hasten to add that you don’t seem prone to that same degree of excess. My tendency is to look at the facts of what the disease is actually doing right now, and rely on that observation versus speculations about what might could happen once zombies start popping out of the ground.

    That all said Wuhan coronavirus is a threat of unknown dimensions, and if it can be contained, that’s better than ending up with influenza 2.0. China and others are doing the right thing by trying to bottle it up and attack it with what science we have. I just think it is useful to keep the risks that we understand in perspective, and not completely lose our heads. As yet, Wuhan is a comparatively minor health threat versus ongoing pandemics in our midst.

  46. @ Bill — Not so fast. Of course the coronavirus is serious, but my skepticism regarding British Airways’ logic isn’t completely off base. Both American and United announced they were reducing capacity to China using the same information that British Airways used.

    Their logic? Both had exactly the same “Given the significant decline in demand for travel to and from China.”

    How do you rationalize that?

  47. @Lucky
    The difference is surely that the U.K. government has advised against all but “essential” travel to anywhere in mainland China, whereas your own government hasn’t.

    Therefore BA now has specific legal obligations including for the health & safety of its own staff. Cancelling all flights for a few days until a clearer picture emerges seems eminently sensible, doesn’t it?

  48. @Lucky

    Not just UA and AA, but DL is also cutting China routes.

    Check your sources for any blanket ban coming up, I’m wondering about that too.

  49. The cancellation of flights were due to a combination of factors.

    Once the government advised against all but essential travel the writing was on the wall for flights to mainland China (Virgin have now suspended flights too)

    A duty of care for the flight and cabin crew – many did not want to travel to China in the first instance and were naturally worried,

    Once in China – most shops and restaurants were closed. The hotels are closing restaurants and some places having food shortages – you can’t keep crews locked in a hotel without access to any food etc.

    Many aspects of public transport are closed down, the streets are deserted even in Shanghai and Beijing so it’s harder for crew to move around, so again restricted to just a hotel.

    The downtime has added bonuses of being able to assist with the 787 issues, and allow unscheduled pre summer maintenance which wasn’t in the plan originally.

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