The difficult commercial decision on whether to suspend flights to China may be taken out of the hands of U.S. airlines altogether after the White House hinted that all U.S. flights to China may be halted.
Earlier media reports suggested the Trump Administration had already made a decision to ban flights between the U.S. and China as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread. CNBC reported that the White House had reached out to U.S. airline executives to announce this. But late Tuesday night, officials denied those reports and stated that a final decision has not been made.
An anonymous official told USA Today:
“The White House did not call the airlines and hasn’t asked for a suspension of flights between the U.S. and China.”
Already the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended that U.S. travelers avoid all but non-essential travel to China. Meanwhile, British Airways has suspended all service to Mainland China, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, and JetStar Asia have cut back service, while Lion Air and Seoul Air have also suspended all service to China. Yesterday, United announced February cutbacks to Mainland China and Hong Kong service.
For now, the Trump administration is still in a wait-and-see-mode. The only on-the-record statement we have is from Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar, who said:
“It’s important to not take anything off the table.”
Currently, more than 6,000 people have contracted the coronavirus with at least 132 deaths linked to the mysterious virus. Based upon United’s voluntary suspension of flights yesterday and similar moves by British Airways and several Asian carriers today, I tend to think a government ban will not be necessary and airlines will act cut flights in a more aggressive way in the days ahead.