On the same day that the World Health Organization declared the fast-spreading coronavirus a ‘global health emergency’, American Airlines’ pilots union has filed a lawsuit to stop the airline conducting any more flights to China. The airline previously said it would stop flying from LA to Beijing and Shanghai from the 9th February, but had no plans to stop flying from Dallas. The pilots union wants to secure a temporary restraining order to prevent flights from taking off with immediate effect.
With airlines cancelling services to China from all over the world, direct connections to the mainland are becoming few and far between. Some airlines, however, are still flying, including Qantas who is not planning on cancelling its flights for now. Other airlines, while they may have announced suspensions, are not stopping flights just yet, rather are planning for a cease to the China flights within the next week or two.
American Airlines is one such company. The airline has announced it will cancel some flights, but not all of them and not right away. Specifically, AA has said it will cancel flights out of Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai from February 9th, but is so far planning to continue servies from Dallas.
Pilots are not happy
The problem for air crews is not just operating the flights themselves, for which some risks can be mitigated via airport screening and hygiene. The real issue is that, due to work time hours, crews are required by law to spend extended periods on the ground at the destination, often up to 32 hours, to ensure an adequate amount of rest.
American Airlines’ pilots are, understandably, not happy about the prospect of spending a day and a half in China at the current time. With specifics around incubation time and human to human infection still being worked out, the pilots feel they are being put at too great of a risk by being made to continue these flights.
As a result, the independent union for American Airlines, the Allied Pilots Association, yesterday filed a lawsuit against American Airlines for a temporary restraining order on all its flights between the US and China. Until the outcome is known, President of the union, Eric Ferguson, has called for pilots to refuse to fly the routes. In a statement he said,
“The safety and well-being of our crews and passengers must always be our highest priority — first, last, and always. Numerous other major carriers that serve China, including British Airways, Air Canada, and Lufthansa, have chosen to suspend service to that country out of an abundance of caution. The APA leadership has asked American Airlines management to follow suit, but to date they have not canceled any U.S.-China flights. We are therefore compelled to seek injunctive relief.
“We estimate that as many as 300 passengers and crew travel to DFW alone from Chinese cities on each American Airlines flight. To us, that level of risk is unacceptable.
“Due to the known and unknown risks associated with traveling to China right now, concurrent with the filing of our lawsuit, we are directing all American Airlines pilots assigned to flights between the United States and China, other than those on return trips to the United States, to decline the assignment.”
The airline’s response
In a statement provided to CNBC, the airline said it was ‘aware’ of the filing and noted,
“We are in close contact with the CDC and global public health officials to make sure we are taking all necessary precautions for our customers and team members. We will continue to monitor the situation and make any updates as needed.”
Both Delta and United have slashed the number of flights to China in response to the outbreak. However, neither has completely stopped service. Delta’s pilots’ union told CNBC that they have requested flight ops allow pilots the option not to fly to China, while United maintains that the reduction in flights is due to a slump in demand.
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