American Airlines Group Inc. and British Airways said bookings remain intact after the disclosure that an Ebola patient made a trans-Atlantic flight and became the first person diagnosed with the disease in the U.S.
A drop in demand, not concern that the virus would spread, spurred British Airways’ decision in August to halt service to Sierra Leone and Liberia, the takeoff point for the U.S.-bound Ebola flier, according to Willie Walsh, chief executive officer of airline parent International Consolidated Airlines Group SA.
“The experience we’ve had flying into the region and since we stopped is that the risk is very, very low,” Walsh said at a Washington news conference today. Preflight screening in the affected countries and other measures to contain the disease “have been sensible and appropriate.”
Walsh and American CEO Doug Parker discussed Ebola at an event that was arranged to promote the two carriers’ trans- Atlantic alliance. While U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the U.S. patient wasn’t contagious for his trip, the case has stirred concern that the deadly virus would spread beyond the West Africa danger zone by jetliner.
“We’re in close contact with the CDC and they tell us there is no issue whatsoever,” Parker said. “This is not an airborne illness. We still continue to monitor it and, to the extent any issue arises, we’ll respond aggressively.”
On the current Ebola scare, Walsh said: “It’s not impacting us in any way.”
United Continental Holdings Inc., which flew the Ebola patient to the U.S. from Brussels on two flights last month, is alerting passengers who were on those planes and offered blood tests to flight attendants on the aircraft.
The notifications are intended to keep customers fully informed even though the CDC sees “zero risk” of transmission, said Christen David, a spokeswoman. The man is now hospitalized in Dallas.
IAG, which is based in London and whose other carriers include Spain’s Iberia, said today the share of seats filled on its planes in September rose 0.1 percentage point from a year earlier to 84.5 percent. This year through September, the rate declined 0.7 point to 80.7 percent.
American, the world’s largest carrier, has been part of a push in the U.S. industry to fly jets fuller than ever by keeping capacity in check. Its year-to-date load factor was 82.9 percent through August, down 0.6 point.
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