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British Airways Evacuating Crew Out of Mainland China, Suspending Flights to Beijing and Shanghai

British Airways Evacuating Crew Out of Mainland China, Suspending Flights to Beijing and Shanghai

British Airways has taken the drastic decision to evacuate its crew from mainland China as the airline suspends flights to both Beijing and Shanghai for over a month.  The decision follows updated advice from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to “avoid all but essential travel to mainland China” because of growing pandemic fears from the Wuhan novel Coronoavirus outbreak in the region.

An internal memo sent to BA staffers said aircraft currently en route to both Beijing and Shanghai would return to the UK with all crew who are currently downroute in these two locations.  Meanwhile, British Airways is working on plans to repatriate its China-based crew back home on other carriers.

Photo Credit: British Airways

“The situation regarding the new coronavirus in China is constantly developing and tonight the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office position has changed, advising against all but essential travel to China,” the memo which was orginally shared on PaxEx.aero reads.

“As you would expect, this situation has been monitored constantly for the last week and updates have been provided for our colleagues… A contingency group has met again tonight (Tuesday) to define a plan and there will be a further operational update early on Wednesday.”

“The safety of our colleagues remains our priority. The aircraft currently airborne to PVG and PKX will return with all crew currently downroute in these locations… For our Chinese crew based in PKX and PVG who are currently on trips in London, we are making arrangements to get you home,” the memo continues.

Flights to Hong Kong and other countries in the region are expected to operate as normal for the timebeing.

Yesterday, United Airlines announced sweeping cancellations to its services to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai due to a “significant decline in demand for travel to China”.  The cancellations will begin February 1. through February 8. but falls short of completely nixing its mainland China flights like British Airways has done.

In response, the Association of Flight Attendants who represent crew at United said the airline’s decision was the “right proactive approach in times like these.”

The statement continued:  “It is not only a good business decision, but it will also allow United to properly provision flights around the system by consolidating universal precaution materials.  This minimizes unnecessary exposure.  It also allows Flight Attendants to better plan for their own schedules. We appreciate United’s continued work with our union to mitigate risk during this outbreak.”

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Finnair said it would suspend its flights Beijing Daxing and Nanjing between February 8. and March 29.  However, flights to Beijing Capital, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou will continue to operate as normal for the time being.

There have now been more than 6,000 confirmed cases of the Wuhan Coronavirus and over 130 deaths connected with the illness.  The rate of transmission in mainland China has now outstripped the number of cases in the 2013 SARS outbreak.

Last night, a chartered cargo plane evacuated U.S. embassy staff and some citizens from Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak.  After refuelling in Alaska, the plane will land in Ontario, California which is a designated repatriation center.  Passengers onboard the aircraft will first be screened for symptoms in Alaska and only those with no signs of the illness will be allowed to continue their journey into the continental United States.

Health officials are setting up temporary living quarters at Ontario airport where evacuated passengers will be kept for up to two weeks.

Other countries including Japan and Australia are also evacuating their citizens from China, while the UK is still making plans for a similar repatriation effort.

A few days ago, Emirates told its cabin crew to remain in their hotel rooms during mainland China layovers.  In an effort to contain the virus, other carriers in the region are drastically scaling back their flights to mainland China.

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