The H1N1 virus and the airline sector: latest develoments.


UPDATE: 4 May, 19:34

Mexican carriers have not yet followed US carriers in cutting transborder capacity for all of May but are cancelling flights on a day-by-day basis in response to reduced demand driven by the spread of swine flu.

A Mexicana spokesman says every evening the carrier is reviewing demand for the following day and cancelling select flights. For the most part Mexicana is cutting frequencies in markets where there is more than one flight per day.

"We’re just consolidating flights," he says. "We’re doing it on a day-by-day basis."

He says cancellations peaked on Saturday, when it cancelled about 45 flights. While Mexicana continues to cancel "a big chunk" of its flights he says the situation is changing every day and Mexicana will not implement any wholesale capacity cuts.

"We’ve had to cancel lots of flights, both us and the guys across town," says the Mexicana spokesman, referring to rival Aeromexico.

An Aeromexico spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the carrier at this moment has no information to share on cancellations or capacity cuts.

UPDATE: 4 May, 8:45

United Airlines says in a statement that for the period 5 May to 3 June it is cancelling 11 routes to Mexico, reducing frequency on three others but keeping its Los Angeles-Cancun and Los Angeles-Los Cabos services unchanged.

US Airways says from 10 May to 1 July it is reducing its capacity to Mexico by 38% which means 12 cites in Mexico will experience a reduction in flights. It will also operate smaller aircraft to Mexico, it adds.

The carrier says it hopes that on 2 July it will resume its normal schedule to Mexico, but adds it will have to evaluate the situation over the coming weeks before deciding.

Air Canada has announced it has suspended services to Cancun, Cozumel and Puerto Vallarta until 1 June, but plans to continue serving Mexico City.

UPDATE: 1 May, 17:50

Following a similar decision by Continental Airlines, United Airlines is instituting a temporary reduction in flights to Mexico.

Chicago-based United says it has less than two percent of its consolidated capacity dedicated to Mexico. Beginning 5 May the carrier is cutting weekly roundtrip flights from 61 to 24, with a further reduction in June from 90 to 52.

The carrier plans to continue service to all its year-round Mexican destinations: Cancun, Los Cabos, Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta.

Prior to its 50% reduction in Mexican capacity, Continental operated 450 weekly flights to Mexico. The Houston-based airline has the most exposure to the Mexican market out of all the US carriers serving the country.

UPDATE: 1 May, 17:30

Latin and Caribbean airlines represented by ALTA are voicing concern over countries in those regions instituting travel bans to protect against the H1N1 virus, or swine influenza.

“We are very concerned about the unilateral actions being taken by some countries in our region, specifically Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador and Peru, to impose unilateral travel restrictions,” says ALTA’s Executive Director Alex de Gunten.

Citing an advisory from the World Health Organization issued today de Guten says the restrictions not only “go against the WHO’s recommendations, but are negatively impacting travelers and citizens who want to return to their countries, and are also negative to the economic well being of countries in the region”.

UPDATE: 1 May, 15:00

Continental Airlines is to halve its capacity to Mexico this month as of 4 May, to adjust to falling demand triggered by the H1N1 virus, or swine influenza. The cuts comprise roughly 2% of Continental’s system wide capacity for May compared with its original flight schedule for the month.

UPDATE: 1 May, 09:00

Passengers flying out of the 12 Mexican airports operated by Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico will go through health check points before boarding due to the swine flu outbreak. Domestic and international passengers will be surveyed and at-risk passengers will be examined systematically based on survey responses. All international passengers will have their temperature taken with digital measurement cameras and those with a high fever will proceed to a health facility, a GAP spokeswoman says.

WHO, reporting as of 06:00, today, say 11 countries have officially reported 331 cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection. It continues to advise no restriction on regular travel or closure of borders

UPDATE: 30 April, 19:30

US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says flights between the US and Mexico will continue as there are no indications such flights are unsafe. The outbreak of swine flu in Mexico has led other countries such as Argentina, Cuba and Ecuador to suspend all flights to the country. Lahood says he has spoken to the Mexican transport secretary Humberto Trevino Landois and "I was assured flying between here and Mexico is safe."

US airlines represented by the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) hit out against US Vice President Joseph Biden for comments he made today over cautioning his family members against air travel.

The World Health Organisation says as of 17:00, 30 April 2009, 11 countries have officially reported 257 cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection. It continues to advise no restriction on regular travel or closure of borders. WHO has from today started referring to the virus as influenza A(H1N1).

EU health ministers, after an emergency meeting in Luxembourg, decide to leave any decisions on restricting travel as part of efforts to counter the spread of swine flu to invidual states. France had proposed the EU consider a blanket ban on flights to Mexico.

More on these stories are available on our sister premium news service Air Transport Intelligence

UPDATE: 30 April, 15:00

IATA says airlines are prepared for the heightened level of alert on swine flu. "Even under normal circumstances, airlines have equipment and measures in place to keep the cabin environment safe," says IATA director general Giovanni Bisignani. "Secondly, the years of planning for the possibility of avian influenza have prepared the industry to deal efficiently with the unfolding situation by following the recommendations of WHO."

UPDATE: 30 April, 12:00

Airlines are continuing to monitor the impact of the swine flu outbreak, the alert for which the World Health Organisation has recently raised to level five - one step below pandemic level.

Airlines have started to cancel flights to Mexico and some are acting in response to governments trying to contain the spread of swine flu. The industry continues to monitor the situation, but says it is too early to judge its likely impact on air travel.

US body, the Air Transport Association, says its members have seen a modest fall-off in passenger demand for travel between the United States and Mexico, but not enough to warrant any reduction in schedules. It is still premature to quantify the change, it says.

Director general of  the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines Andrew Herdman says: "So far there has been minimal impact on travel patterns. We believe that passengers can be trusted to make informed decisions, provided that there is open and transparent communication of accurate information.” 

Regional airline bodies have praised the work of WHO in leading the reponse to the outbreak, but stress the need for a "co-ordinated" response and believe individual measures by states, such as travel advisories and borders controls, will not help.

"Such measures, whilst well-intentioned, may do more harm than good," says Herdman. "We need a more co-ordinated international response."

These comments are echoed by secretary general of the Association of European Airlines, Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, who adds: "Like other regional airline associations, we support the leadership being shown by WHO in co-ordinating the global response to the current outbreak. This requires, as it is being done, an ongoing evaluation of the risk of a more serious global pandemic. We note that WHO has to date recommended no restriction of international travel, and no closure of borders."

As for the possible economic impact for airlines, Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific senior consultant of Aerospace & Defence Practice Haris Izmee, says: "At this moment, the swine flu outbreak is serious but not a global threat – yet. The airline industry will definitely see a decline but will be able to recover when the threat dissipates. This is because the shock to the general public is not as great as it used to be in the past as we are now better prepared to face global events."


View H1N1 Swine Flu in a larger map


For some of our earlier reports on swine flu and the airline sector see:

Airlines cancelling flights in response to swine flu (30 April 2009)

Countries respond to swine flu with travel advisory warnings (28 April 2009)

Swine flu leads Australia to get strict on aircraft arrivals (28 April 2009)

ANZ grounds personnel against swine flu (27 April 2009)

Airlines and airports respond to swine flu outbreak (27 April 2009)


Click here  for the Frost & Sullivan analysis of the possible impact of the outbreak

Click here for the latest World Health Organisation's update on the outbreak

Click here for more on the spread of the outbreak

Click here for more information on swine flu

Source: Airline Business