Coronavirus: Delta to suspend China flights sooner than planned

Several airlines are also temporarily suspending all flights to China because of the ongoing concerns related to coronavirus.

Delta Air Lines is suspending its flights to China sooner than originally planned, in response to U.S. Health and Human Services requirements.

Atlanta-based Delta has an Atlanta-Shanghai route, along with flights to Beijing and Shanghai from other U.S. cities.

The airline said it will now suspend its flights between the United States and China effective Sunday, instead of waiting until Feb. 6 to halt the flights as previously announced.

The last Delta flight bound for China will leave today, and the last return flight from  China to the U.S. will depart China Feb. 2.

That means the only scheduled passenger flights between Atlanta and China will be suspended this weekend.

Delta said it is basing the decision on U.S. requirements announced Friday to deny entry to foreign nationals who have traveled to China in the past two weeks, and to quarantine U.S. citizens who have traveled to China’s Hubei province recently.

The carrier expects its flights to China will be suspended through April 30, but said it will continue to monitor the situation and may make adjustments “as the situation continues to evolve.”

Travelers with flights booked to China who are affected can request a refund, reschedule their flights to after April 30, be re-accommodated on another airline or discuss other options with Delta.

Delta originally said Friday morning that it would suspend China flights next week, following a U.S. State Department “Do Not Travel” advisory for China issued late Thursday due to the growing outbreak that started in Hubei province.

Other airlines have also announced they would suspend flights from the United States to China.

Delta had previously said it would continue operating flights until Feb. 5 to ensure that customers looking to get out of China have that option.

But the situation became even graver Friday afternoon, when the Trump Administration announced a public health emergency and said U.S. citizens who have been in Hubei province in the last 14 days will be required to undergo 14 days of quarantine.

Others who have traveled elsewhere in mainland China in the last two weeks will be screened and undergo up to 14 days of “monitored self-quarantine,” according to federal officials.

The temporary measures take effect Sunday Feb. 2 at 5 p.m. EST.

Flights from China to the U.S. will be funneled to Atlanta and six other major airports for screening.

Hartsfield-Jackson issued a statement Saturday saying some passengers who may have connected through the affected region could be diverted to Atlanta, but the new regulations affect passengers only and the airport does not expect planes to be funneled to Atlanta.

The airport also said some employees throughout Hartsfield-Jackson may choose to wear protective masks, but it is not mandatory.

The CDC plans to conduct health screenings to detect travelers entering the United States with fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

Hartsfield-Jackson has quarantine facilities in the international terminal, on Concourse F, and the Department of Defense said it stands ready to provide housing.

The Defense Department said military facilities in Fort Carson, Colorado; Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; and Travis Air Force Base and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California could be used to accommodate 1,000 people who may have to be quarantined, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. Department of Transportation assistant secretary Joel Szabat said Friday during a press briefing there has been a steep decline in the number of people traveling to China.

“As you might expect over the course of the last couple of weeks, the passengers loading in the U.S. to fly to China have dropped to almost none,” Szabat said.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services acting director Ken Cuccinelli said at the Friday briefing that over the previous five days, “the number of American citizens traveling from China to the United States has been rising. ... It does look to us initially like Americans, at least some of them, are returning back home.”

While U.S. carriers are suspending flights between the U.S. and China, Chinese airlines also have routes between the U.S. and China. Szabat said U.S. carriers represent just under 40 percent of the passenger capacity.

President Donald Trump also signed a proclamation Friday to temporarily bar entry to the U.S. of foreign nationals who pose a risk of transmitting the disease. It will apply to foreign nationals who have traveled in China within the last 14 days, unless they are immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Atlanta-based Delta has had 42 weekly flights between the U.S. and China, including daily service connecting Beijing and Detroit and Seattle, and Shanghai and Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles and Seattle.

Along with other businesses, the airline’s response has been evolving rapidly as the virus has spread, and as officials in the U.S. and around the world take action to try to contain the outbreak.

Delta response to coronavirus

Jan. 23: Delta said it would allow travelers with flights booked to Wuhan, China to change their travel plans.

Jan. 24: The airline said it would waive change fees for passengers with flights booked to, from or through Beijing and Shanghai in the near future who wanted to change their travel plans.

Jan. 27: Delta extends its waiver of change fees for travelers with flights booked to China through February.

Jan. 29: New plans are announced by Delta to cut its China flight schedule in half effective Feb. 6 due to concerns about coronavirus.

Jan. 31: Delta announces it will instead suspend China flights altogether on Feb. 6.

Today: Delta is speeding up the suspension of China flights, to now take effect Feb. 2.