As concerns of a COVID-19 epidemic spread, Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific is proactively cancelling around three-quarters of their flights, while a commiserate amount of staff will go on unpaid leave with the carrier. The South China Morning Post reports the carrier will ground 120 of their aircraft – approximately half their fleet – as they prepare for more potential schedule changes.
50 percent of aircraft grounded, 75 percent of routes cut
Cathay Pacific’s plan to get through the COVID-19 outbreak – also known as Coronavirus – is to reduce the number of routes they fly as passenger demand decreases. For the month of March 2020 alone, the carrier will only operate an estimated 350 flights, significantly cut from a planned 1,470 flights during the month.
As a result, the airline is grounding around half of their flight, as the aircraft will not be necessary to fly the one-quarter planned schedule for the year. While a Cathay Pacific spokesperson would not elaborate to the South China Morning Post about the exact number of aircraft out of service, they did say: “We are continuously assessing our fleet and aircraft deployment in order to best align capacity with market demand.”
The continual assessment is directly affecting their staff as well. On Feb. 26, 2020, the airline announced 25,000 employees within the company are currently on unpaid leave due to the concern of contracting the Coronavirus. While the majority of those on leave are either customer-facing staff or those working in the headquarters office, some pilots and ground crew are holding back as well. In a previous South China Morning Post article, the company reported two-thirds of their pilot and cabin staff would go out on unpaid leave.
This is not the first time Cathay Pacific has grounded aircraft during a health epidemic. In 2003, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak forced the Hong-Kong airline to cut their schedule back by nearly half, while grounding just over a quarter of their fleet.
Airlines struggle against Coronavirus spread
Airlines leaving from Central Asia aren’t the only ones directly affected by the Coronavirus crisis. Two other carriers are temporarily cutting routes to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 across borders.
Over the weekend, American Airlines announced they would cut flights between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Miami International Airport (MIA) to Milan through Apr. 25, 2020. Delta Air Lines is taking the same precaution, ending flights between JFK and Milan after Tuesday, Mar. 3 and resuming them on May 1, 2020.
The Fort Worth-based American is also offering a universal change fee waiver for flyers purchasing airfare between “March 1 at 4:30 p.m. CST and March 16, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. CST.” Flyers who purchase confirmed tickets in this window “…will not incur change fees if changes are made 14 days prior to travel.”