In the wake of the coronavirus’s spread, airlines are temporarily modifying amenities on flights coming from China, hoping to cut down on potentially infectious interactions between passengers and cabin crew members.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways and Taiwan’s China Airlines, along with its subsidiaries Mandarin Airlines and Tigerair Taiwan, are among the carriers implementing changes in response to the outbreak, as first reported by Reuters.
Since Monday, Taiwan’s China Airlines and Mandarin Airlines will reportedly no longer distribute hot meals, cloth napkins, blankets, pillows, towels, magazines and newspapers on flights between the self-governing island of Taiwan and China (including Hong Kong). Passengers may get drinks and disposable headphones on request. Tigerair Taiwan has halted duty-free services and removed all items from seat back pockets except the safety information and sick bag.
China Airlines has not responded to The Washington Post’s request for comment.
On Wednesday, Cathay Pacific Airways announced it would take similar precautions, temporarily changing in-flight services on all Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon flights traveling to and from mainland China. The carrier is no longer providing blankets, magazines and hot towels on flights traveling between mainland China, or offering in-flight duty-free sales. It is also altering its meal service for first- and business-class cabins, and ending trolley services. In economy cabins, passengers on medium- to long-duration mainland China flights will be served a disposable snack bag.
“This modified service offering is strictly a temporary measure designed to further strengthen our health and safety protocols in light of the evolving situation regarding coronavirus cases in mainland China,” Cathay Pacific Group said in a statement. “We are monitoring the situation closely and will continue to coordinate with the health authorities in Hong Kong and in all the ports to which we operate flights.”
On Thursday, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency. The virus has now infected nearly 10,000 people and killed more than 200. In response, the United States has issued its highest level of travel advisory for China. Twenty ports of entry airports across the country are expanding screening for the new strain of coronavirus, and dozens of carriers including Delta Air Lines and American Airlines are halting all flights to mainland China.
For those traveling by plane, it’s not clear whether measures like avoiding hot meals or blankets are useful for avoiding infection, because information about the new coronavirus strain is evolving.
“There are many, things about this virus that we don’t know for sure yet, so does it make sense for them to restrict serving these things?” says Lin Chen, a medical doctor and director of the Travel Medical Center at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass. “Some of it might make sense, [but] some of it, who knows. We don’t have great data, which is the difficult part.”
As health officials work to understand the virus, Chen recommends proper hand-washing, especially after touching common surfaces, as the best prevention technique, and avoiding touching your face.