British Airways owner IAG has warned that bookings in 2020 will be hit by the effects of coronavirus.
The airline group said flight suspensions to China and cancellations on Italian routes would affect how many passengers it carried this year.
It said it was not possible to say how much profits would be hit in 2020 because of uncertainty about the impact and duration of the current outbreak.
Rival EasyJet has said it is cancelling some flights because of the virus.
The budget carrier said that following the increased number of coronavirus cases in Northern Italy, it had seen “a significant softening of demand and load factors into and out of our Northern Italian bases”.
“As a result, we will be making decisions to cancel some flights, particularly those into and out of Italy, while continuing to monitor the situation and adapting our flying programme to support demand.”
British Airways-owner IAG has suspended and restricted flights as the virus spread out from China to Europe and beyond, with Italy as a major centre of infection.
At the end of January the group suspended all flights to mainland China. Flights to Hong Kong have been reduced, and from March there will also be fewer flights to Seoul.
IAG chief executive Willie Walsh told the BBC’s Today programme that in the first three weeks of February, mainly Asian bookings had been affected.
“Clearly we had announced the suspension of flights to China. We took that decision at the end of January, and we had seen some impact on our other Asian routes, but it had looked like it was stabilising.
“But earlier this week we had the issues in Italy, and that’s clearly led to a significant fall-off in demand in Italy and in some of the surrounding countries as well.”
The number of passengers carried on Italian routes in March “has been significantly reduced” and “further capacity reductions will be activated over the coming days”, IAG said in a statement.
Mr Walsh added that general business travel had been affected by the cancellation of large conferences, as well as by the introduction of travel restrictions by some big companies.
Shares in airlines have been among the hardest hit in the global market sell-off seen this week, and IAG’s shares have sunk 17%.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise that investors are cautious in the current circumstances,” Mr Walsh said.
He added that IAG had a “very strong balance sheet”, but that it was “natural in the current circumstances that people will be cautious”.
Source – BBC News