An angry Chinese passenger unleashed chaos aboard a Thai Airways flight on Friday by coughing on a flight attendant to vent her displeasure at the long wait for a coronavirus check after arriving in Shanghai. The passenger had to be “subdued” by other flight attendants after a scuffle ensued.
According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), passengers aboard the flight from Bangkok to Shanghai had to wait for an unusually thorough coronavirus screening to be completed because some of them had transferred from Iran, where one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world is underway.
When the wait stretched out to seven hours, a female Chinese passenger got into an argument with a female flight attendant and deliberately coughed on her. Thai Airways officials said other flight attendants intervened, encouraged the passenger to desist from her “inappropriate” behavior, and got physical when she refused to return to her seat:
In footage posted online, the woman is subdued by at least one male attendant, who presses her into her seat by her neck as two more male attendants stand nearby, saying “sit down” to her in English.
The woman then yells “What have I done?” in Chinese.
The SCMP found reactions to the incident mixed on Chinese social media, with many castigating the woman for being unreasonable and uncooperative, while others accused the Thai Airways staff of “bullying” the passenger and treating her more harshly because she was Chinese.
The airline responded to complaints about the long coronavirus screening delay by explaining they have to bring passengers off their planes in small groups for testing and pay extra attention to those arriving from particularly bad outbreak areas like Iran. They noted the wait time has been reduced to one or two hours at most by deploying extra screening staff.
The coronavirus is, of course, a matter of great concern for airlines around the world, including the United States. Two of the biggest U.S. carriers, American and Delta, announced major cuts to both domestic and international service on Tuesday with cost-cutting measures to match, as reported by CNN:
American (AAL), the world’s largest airline, said it would cut its international capacity by 10% this summer compared to the current schedule, as well as a 7.5% drop in domestic flights in April.
Delta Air Lines (DAL) said it will cut its international flights between 20% to 25% and trim domestic flights by 10% to 15%.
“We are prepared to do more as the situation evolves,” said CEO Ed Bastian.
Delta said it would make additional moves aimed at saving $3 billion, including a suspension of share repurchases, a deferral of contribution to the company’s pension plans, a cut in capital spending and a deferral of maintenance spending on aircraft it expects to park. It also said it would institute a hiring freeze and set up a way for employees to sign up for unpaid leave. And Delta said it no longer stood by its previous earnings outlook for 2020.
CNN noted that United and JetBlue have already announced similar cuts, and other carriers are likely to follow suit after they speak with investors at a JPMorgan Chase conference on Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on Monday recommended older people and those with pre-existing conditions avoid long flights and other crowded environments that would raise their risk of contracting the virus, an announcement that produced an immediate hit to airline stocks.
Strict new procedures for sanitizing airplanes will impose additional costs on the airlines, including a rule that requires entire aircraft to be taken out of service for thorough decontamination if any of the passengers exhibits coronavirus symptoms. Much looser rules for changing and canceling flights have been established by many airlines, waiving the customary fees at considerable expense to the carriers.
Airline stocks rebounded somewhat late Monday and Tuesday, suggesting investors and analysts believe the industry’s hardships will be temporary.
Some overseas carriers have been hit hard enough by the coronavirus to threaten their existence, as with South Korea’s Korean Air, whose president notified employees in a memo on Tuesday that if the emergency persists, “we may reach the threshold where we cannot guarantee the company’s survival.”
The BBC quoted the Korean Air memo in a piece that cited estimates of $63 billion to $113 billion in lost revenue for the air travel industry worldwide due to the coronavirus.