US carriers suspend Seoul service as coronavirus spreads

Caryn Livingston

U.S.-based carriers Delta Air Lines and Hawaiian Airlines announced temporary suspensions of some routes operating between the United States and South Korea on Thursday. The announcements are the latest indicator that the scale of the coronavirus impact on air cargo is moving beyond mainland China into other countries, with rising numbers of confirmed cases.

Beginning Saturday and through April 30, Delta is suspending its service between Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP) and South Korea’s Incheon Airport (ICN). The carrier is also reducing its service between ICN and Atlanta (ATL), Detroit (DTW) and Seattle (SEA) to five times per week through April 30.

In addition, Delta will delay the planned March 29 launch of its new route between ICN and Manila (MNL), to May 1.

Meanwhile, Hawaiian Air Cargo announced the suspension of its five-times-weekly service between Honolulu (HNL) and ICN from March 2 through April 30, “due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in South Korea.” As of Thursday’s situation report from the World Health Organization, South Korea has the most confirmed cases of the virus outside China.

See also: U.S. East Coast freight forwarders navigate coronavirus bottlenecks

Cancelations have also spread to Europe, where Italy is currently the region’s hotspot for infections. On Wednesday, Royal Jordanian Airlines began suspending its flights from Jordan’s Amman Airport (AMM) to Rome (FCO). Several budget airlines have also reduced or canceled flights to Italy due to falling demand.

While the announcements relate to passenger — rather than all-cargo flights — the impact of such cancelations is already well-documented in China. With about 50% of air cargo traveling in the bellies of passenger aircraft, air cargo movements will become increasingly reliant on freighter operations.

DSV Panalpina today touted rail transport as a feasible alternative to congested ports and diminishing air capacity.

“Our dedicated rail team operates multiple rail services from China to destinations all over Europe,” DSV Panalpina said in a statement. Rail transport from northern and central China to Europe takes between 11 and 15 days, while transit time east from Europe to China takes longer, between 18 to 20 days, the forwarder estimated.

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