American Airlines Pilots Sue to Halt US-China Flights Amid Coronavirus Epidemic

The Allied Pilots Association, a union representing 15,000 American Airlines pilots, has sued the company to halt the carrier’s U.S.-China service, citing “serious, and in many ways still unknown, health threats posed by the coronavirus.”

The union asked the court in Dallas County for a temporary and immediate restraining order halting the flights as the virus spreads.

“The safety and well-being of our crews and passengers must always be our highest priority—first, last, and always,” APA President Capt. Eric Ferguson said in a statement. “Numerous other major carriers that serve China, including British Airways, Air Canada, and Lufthansa, have chosen to suspend service to that country out of an abundance of caution.”

American Airlines
American Airlines aircraft are shown parked at their gates at Miami International Airport in Miami, on April 24, 2019. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

The coronavirus, a potentially fatal respiratory disease, first emerged in Wuhan, China in early December and has since spread across China and appeared in some other countries, including the United States, Japan and India. The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus epidemic a public health emergency of international concern, after an emergency committee convened Thursday in Geneva.

wuhan patient
Medical staff in protective suits treat a patient with pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus at the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China on Jan. 28, 2020. (China Daily/Reuters)

The current number of coronavirus cases in China has exceeded the number of SARS infections worldwide during the 2002-2003 epidemic.

American Airlines on Tuesday suspended two routes from Los Angeles to mainland China between Feb. 9 and March 27 due to “significant decline in demand.”

An American Airlines plane takes off from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas,
An American Airlines plane takes off from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas on June 10, 2019. (Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images)

The pilots’ lawsuit said the airline hasn’t taken any action to cancel or suspend flights before Feb. 9 and they want immediate action taken on flights from American’s larget hub, Dallas-Forth Worth. The suit also says that the average age of the Dallas-Fort Worth-based captains is 61, and that older adults are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill after contracting coronavirus.

American Airlines did not immediately return a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The union noted in a statement that American Airlines currently operates about 56 monthly flights between Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Chinese airports. Ferguson, the APA president, added that he estimated as many as 300 passengers and crew travel from China to Dallas-Forth Worth on each flight and “to us, that level of risk is unacceptable.”

Ferguson said the union was also instructing all American Airline pilots to decline any assignments to operate flights between the United States and China. The suit also asks for damages, attorney’s fees and more.

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