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A WestJet 737-800 at LAX (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Coronavirus Continues to Leave Everyone On Edge, But What’s Next for Airlines

On Feb. 5, WestJet flight 2702 from Toronto Pearson International Airport to Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica, was forced to turn back after a 28-year-old passenger announced to the whole aircraft that he had just returned from the Hunan province of China and wasn’t feeling well.

While he may have been mistaken, the Hunan province does border Hubei, the hub of the ongoing outbreak of the new coronavirus that has been making headlines over the past month since Chinese authorities first reported it to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31 of last year.

According to Fox News, the flight attendants then moved him to the back of the plane away from other passengers as the aircraft turned around. After being arrested and now saying he regrets that decision, the incident does help to illustrate just how on-edge the coronavirus has made some people. That is especially true in the airline industry, a sector that inherently shoulders a lot of the risk in spreading the virus in a world that is as connected as ever.

“We sincerely apologize to the 243 guests who were affected by this unfortunate situation,” WestJet said in a statement shared with Fox News. “Out of an abundance of caution, our crew followed all protocols for infectious disease on board, including sequestering an individual who made an unfounded claim regarding Coronavirus.”

Airlines continue to cancel flights and make changes to their route networks as demand for travel to China has plummeted. To a lesser degree, the same fate has befallen travel to countries across the region, highlighted by 16 exhibitors — including Gulfstream and Bombardier — that decided to pull out of the Singapore Airshow, which is slated to kick off next week.

Airlines in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North America have suspended flights to and from China in recent days as the loss of demand begins to rear its ugly head. This has proven especially pertinent for Cathay Pacific, which on Wednesday canceled nearly 30 percent of its entire route network. The airline also asked all employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave sometime between March 1 and June 30, a measure it hasn’t taken since the financial crisis.

At the moment, it seems to many that the only thing airlines can do is wait. Wait and hope that the WHO and health authorities around the world are able to corral the virus before it begins to affect other areas of operation. Because while the disease has had far less of an impact than the average flu, the novelty and uncertainty that surround it continue to influence the responses of governments, businesses and, most importantly, consumers.

Airline stock prices jumped on Wednesday, recovering some of their lost value after reports began to circulate there may have been a breakthrough regarding a possible vaccine to treat the virus.

The stock of the three legacy U.S. carriers were all trading up between two and three percent as of 12 p.m., but the real progress was made in Europe. Shares of British Airways’ parent company, IAG, shot up 6.5 percent, while Lufthansa and Air France-KLM jumped 5.5 and 4.8 percent, respectively.

While nobody yet knows the extent to which the virus will plague the global economy going forward, the markets clearly became more hopeful on Wednesday. But as some are already hoping the world is close to being on the road to recovery, things may be looking up for airlines in the months to come.

Parker Davis
Parker Davis
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