World News

Delta cutting flights to South Korea; JetBlue waives U.S. change fees

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Delta Air Lines Inc <DAL.N> said on Wednesday it would temporarily cut flights to and from South Korea in half, citing global health concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak as U.S. airlines grapple with lagging travel demand.

From Saturday through April 30, Delta is suspending service between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Seoul-Incheon. Delta will also reduce to five times weekly its services between Seoul and Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle through April 30. In total, Delta is shrinking its typical 28 U.S. weekly flights to Korea to 15.

The airline’s new service from Seoul-Incheon to Manila, previously scheduled to begin on March 29, will now start on May 1.

South Korea has the most virus cases outside China andreported 334 new cases on Thursday for a total of 1,595. South Korea also reported its 13th death linked to the virus.

On Wednesday, Hawaiian Airlines Inc said it would suspend its five-times-weekly service between Honolulu and Seoul-Incheon beginning on Monday through April 30.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and State Department on Wednesday both issued travel advisories urging Americans to avoid non-essential travel to South Korea.

With U.S. air travel demand slumping, JetBlue Airways Corp <JBLU.O> said that starting on Thursday through March 11, it would suspend change and cancel fees for new flight bookings for travel completed by June 1.

The airline said the policy “is designed to give customers confidence that they will not be charged any JetBlue fees for changes or cancellations later given evolving coronavirus concerns.”

U.S. carriers have canceled all flights to China through late April, while the United States barred nearly all non-U.S. citizens who traveled recently to China from entering the United States and required U.S. citizens who recently visited China to return home at one of 11 U.S. airports for enhanced screening.

At a news conference on Wednesday, President Donald Trump said he was not imposing restrictions on travelers from additional countries with large numbers of cases like South Korea or Italy. He did not rule out imposing additional travel restrictions at a later date if needed.

On Wednesday, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation Committee, Representative Peter DeFazio, and the chair of the subcommittee overseeing aviation, Representative Rick Larsen, wrote the U.S Transportation Department asking how the government “plans to effectively prepare for the imminent arrival of a pandemic caused by coronavirus COVID-19 on U.S. soil.”

The two Democrats said U.S. airlines had expressed concern about the scope of requests by the CDC and expectations regarding airlines’ collection of certain inbound passenger data. The CDC has expressed concern about its ability to access information from the airlines.

On Monday, United Airlines Inc <UAL.O> said near-term demand to China had almost disappeared and that demand for the rest of its trans-Pacific routes had dropped by 75%.

(This story has been refiled to correct number of flights per week to 28 from 35 in paragraph two after company revised statement.)

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney and Sandra Maler)