Delta Air Lines on Wednesday said it will suspend nonstop flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Seoul for two months as global air travel continues to slow with the spread of the new coronavirus.
The last flight before suspension will depart MSP for Seoul’s Incheon International Airport on Friday, with the last return flight leaving Seoul for the Twin Cities on Saturday.
The Atlanta-based airline a day earlier added Seoul to its list of destinations eligible for travel waivers after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed South Korea on its list of highest-risk countries for exposure to the virus.
South Korea and China are the only two nations with that level of warning, in which the CDC advises travelers to cancel all nonessential travel. As of Wednesday, more than 1,260 cases of COVID-19, the disease associated with the new coronavirus, had been confirmed in South Korea.
The outbreak has reached a new level of concern among public health officials and economists, who are beginning to warn that the spread of the coronavirus could have a greater effect on global economies than originally forecast. Travel-dependent industries such as airlines are particularly vulnerable.
“Airlines are making difficult decisions to cut capacity and in some cases routes,” Alexandre de Juniac, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said in a recent statement. “This will be a very tough year for airlines.”
The MSP-Seoul nonstop flight reappears on Delta’s schedule starting May 1.
The airline is also reducing service between Seoul and Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle from daily to five days a week. Delta passengers with tickets to Seoul between now and April 30 can either rebook their trip for later or receive a full refund at no charge.
Delta began nonstop service from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Seoul last April. The daily flight uses an Airbus A350-900, which seats 306 customers. It’s one of only two nonstop Asia routes available to Minnesotans, the other being Delta’s service to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. The airline is trying to get U.S. regulatory approval to launch a new nonstop from MSP to Shanghai — a process that can take several months and even years.
Late last week, IATA estimated that global air traffic would be reduced by 4.7% due to the virus, which could cause the first overall decline in demand for air travel since the financial crisis of 2008-2009. IATA, a trade group representing 290 of the world’s airlines, predicts airlines could lose more than $29 billion in passenger revenue this year.
United Airlines — the U.S. airline most exposed to the Asia-Pacific region — withdrew its 2020 financial forecast on Tuesday, citing a 100% drop in demand for China flights and a 75% decline for all of its trans-Pacific flights. The NYSE Arca Airline Index has dropped nearly 16% in the last five days. United, Delta and American airlines’ stock all closed down Wednesday.
Delta, the dominant carrier at MSP, also extended the travel waiver for flights to three Italian cities — Milan, Venice and Bologna — as the outbreak spreads rapidly there. The move reflects its partnership with Air France, which offers Delta passengers connecting service throughout Europe.
Late last month, the airline suspended through April all its flights to Beijing and Shanghai.
“The health and safety of customers and employees is Delta’s top priority and the airline has put in place a number of processes and mitigation strategies to respond to the growing concern,” the airline said in a statement. “Delta remains in constant contact with the foremost communicable disease experts at the CDC, WHO and local health officials to respond to the coronavirus as well as ensure training, policies, procedures and cabin cleaning and disinfection measures meet and exceed guidelines.”
Kristen Leigh Painter • 612-673-4767