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Aer Lingus cuts Italian flights for March over virus

IAG's Willie Walsh says carriers may offer staff unpaid leave as threat from outbreak means passengers stay at home

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Coronavirus fears: A passenger wears a face mask in the arrivals hall of Dublin Airport. Photo: Collins Dublin

Coronavirus fears: A passenger wears a face mask in the arrivals hall of Dublin Airport. Photo: Collins Dublin

Colin Keegan

Coronavirus fears: A passenger wears a face mask in the arrivals hall of Dublin Airport. Photo: Collins Dublin

Aer Lingus has seen a fall in bookings to northern Italy as flyers worry about the spread of the coronavirus.

The airline is also cutting the number of flights into the region for March.

A woman in Northern Ireland infected with the virus also travelled from northern Italy on an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin, it was confirmed yesterday.

Willie Walsh, CEO of the airline's parent firm, IAG, said that in order to combat the economic fallout from the virus, the group could consider options such as unpaid leave for staff who want it, as well as other measures like not renewing some aircraft leases.

He said there is "pent-up demand" for part-time work across the airline group, which also includes British Airways, Spanish carriers Iberia and Vueling, and Level.

The airline boss has also predicted that the impact of the virus on the airline industry will result in more carrier collapses this year in Europe and elsewhere.

"In the first place, this is impacting long-haul in Asia, so that has implications for British Airways and for Iberia," Mr Walsh told the Irish Independent.

IAG suspended all flights to mainland China in January as the virus spread.

"Most of these issues will be the responsibility of each of the operating companies," said Mr Walsh of measures that may be taken to tackle the effects of the virus on the group.

He added: "The issue we find this week is the impact on Italy in particular, but also some knock-on impact into other parts of the short-haul network."

Mr Walsh said the impact on the Italian market had been significantly pronounced since Monday, with a strong fall-off in demand.

Aer Lingus chief executive Sean Doyle also confirmed the drop in bookings to northern Italy.

"We are seeing a decline in bookings particularly into northern Italy," he told the Irish Independent.

"We've taken some short-term actions. We've reduced the flight programme by about seven flights in March. We're monitoring the situation very closely."

The Aer Lingus boss also said that business travel is being hit more than leisure at present. Mr Walsh said travellers should not expect any immediate seat sales from IAG to spur travel demand as the virus continues to take its toll on the sector.

"I think it will be a measure that will be taken at some stage, but not right now," he said.

Irish Independent