Delta Air Lines Inc. is reducing its weekly flights from the U.S. to South Korea, which has quickly become the country worst hit by the novel coronavirus outside of China.
COVID-19 cases rose to nearly 1,300 in the country Feb. 26, mostly concentrated around Daegu, a city home to about 2.5 million people about 150 miles from Seoul, which happens to be a sister city of Atlanta.
Delta said it would completely postpone flights to Seoul/Incheon from Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., while reducing to five days a week its daily flights from Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle through April 30.
Delta is also delaying to May 1 the launch of an Incheon flight to Manila, Philippines, that was scheduled to take off March 29.
The virus was reportedly brought back to Daegu from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, by members of the Shincheonji church, a religious sect whose founder is said to have claimed to be the second-coming of Jesus Christ. Many cases are linked to the church’s worship services, while others have spread from a hospital in the North Gyeongsang province, according to news reports.
Anticipating a hit to an economy already reeling from trade disputes and supply-chain disruptions in China, South Korea’s central bank has cut interest rates to historic lows.
Delta’s initial service cuts aren’t as drastic as the reductions it introduced when China first reported the outbreak, reflecting the fact that the threat is still measured in South Korea; the outbreak is contained around Daegu and has not hit Seoul, a massive metropolis of more than 10 million people.
Delta’s posture could change, however. After initially halving its flights to China, Delta two days later postponed all U.S.-China service through April 30. This what the airline had to say about its stepped-up preparations for the virus:
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. 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.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Monday issued a level-3 travel warning recommending that Americans avoid non-essential travel to South Korea.
Delta is waiving change fees for customers who adjust their travel plans for flights between the U.S. and South Korea, China and Italy. Visit the My Trips section of Delta.com or the FlyDelta app to find out how to make changes or request a refund.
Korean Air, Delta’s SkyTeam partner, has not publicly announced changes to its flight schedule into Atlanta.
The CDC continues to screen travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, one of 11 U.S. airports designated for passengers arriving from affected areas.