As countries across the world suspended air travel to China as a preventive measure for the coronavirus outbreak spreading across the Asian country, some airlines are offering discounted flights to Hong Kong in May—as long as travelers agree to a six-hour layover in the city of Wuhan, part of the Hubei region where the outbreak began in December.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union, told Common Dreams that selling discounted flights routed through the city at the center of the outbreak is unacceptable. Nelson called on world governments to make sure that public health is prioritized in air travel.
"Public health is not a commodity," said Nelson. "We need responsible leadership from our government in coordination with all stakeholders."
In a statement Friday, Nelson called on airlines to protect the health of their crews.
"The government must work with our airlines to discontinue all service, with consideration for evacuation of flight crew, and with consideration to service that facilitates efforts by public health officials to contain spread of the virus," said Nelson.
American Airlines and Delta announced Friday they are suspending flights to and from China due to the disease. The global tourism industry is expected to take a hit from the illness—one worse than the impact of the SARS outbreak in 2003, according to Bocom International transportation analyst Luya You.
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"The benchmark everyone is comparing this to is SARS in 2003," You said. "The actual cost and negative impact of this virus could be greater because more Chinese are traveling than before. The cost of preventing travel, grounding flights, is magnitudes higher than what it was in 2003."
Bloomberg News broke the story of cheap flights through Wuhan Thursday evening, citing travel website Kayak:
Flying with China Southern Airlines Co. to John F. Kennedy International on May 20 costs only $193, according to travel booking site kayak.com. The trip includes 6 hours and 35 minutes in Wuhan. The next-cheapest ticket, with China Eastern Airlines Co. via Shanghai, is $487. Direct American Airlines Inc. flights are on offer for $2,688.
The deeply discounted flights reportedly popped up on the site after the virus spread across China and into at least 14 other countries.
Businesss Insider confirmed Friday morning that there are cheap offers for flights routed through Wuhan scheduled for May on Orbitz.