BANGKOK (Reuters) – Passengers on some flights to China will have to make do without hot meals or blankets and newspapers, as airlines step up measures to protect crew and travellers from a coronavirus that has killed more than 130 in the country.
Seeking to contain the spread of the new virus by reducing personal contact, Taiwan’s China Airlines said it is encouraging passengers to bring their own beverage bottles and would limit re-usable items by replacing them with disposables.
The airline and its regional arm Mandarin Airlines have stopped from Monday serving hot meals and replaced tablecloths and napkins with paper towels on cross-strait and Hong Kong flights. They also stopped providing blankets, pillows, towels, magazines and newspapers, while beverages and disposable headphones are supplied only on request.
“The seat back pocket will only contain the aircraft safety card and sick bag,” said Tigerair Taiwan, also a member of China Airline group, adding duty-free sales are also not available.
Thai Airways is spray-disinfecting passenger cabin and cockpit on all flights returning from China and high-risk destinations.
“Because we have in-flight entertainment which mean the LCD screens are being touched all the time, so we deep cleanse every flight before departure,” an executive told a news conference on Tuesday.
Its video showing staff in hazmat suits spraying down a cabin garnered praise on social media for the flag carrier’s effort, although some were alarmed by it.
“Where are all the passengers on board? I think all the passengers are supposed to be kept and be monitored for one week,” social media user John Honesty posted on Facebook.
“I suggest to stop all flight from China for at list 30 to 60 days. That will not kill the economy. The life of the public is more important now than the so called economy.”
Thailand, the top destination for China’s holidaymakers, had 11 million Chinese visitors last year. But with 14 coronavirus cases, it is the second-worst hit country outside of China.
Other airlines including Singapore Airlines and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd are allowing crew to wear masks on China flights, while American Airlines provides hand sanitiser wipes for flight attendants to use on all departures to China.
Some are taking even more drastic measures with flight cancellations.
South Korean budget carrier Air Seoul said on Tuesday it will halt all flights to China due to travellers’ concerns about the virus, while United Airlines Holdings Inc is suspending 24 U.S. flights to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai between Feb. 1 and Feb. 8 due to a sharp drop in demand.