Airlines

Airline stocks slide as highly contagious Covid mutation in UK prompts travel restrictions

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Key Points
  • U.S. airlines slide after a highly contagious Covid strain in Britain sparked new travel restrictions.
  • The U.S. banned most noncitizens from entering the country if they were in the EU or the U.K. for the last two weeks.
A United Airlines passenger aircraft arrives over the top of residential houses to land at Heathrow Airport in west London, Britain, March 13, 2020.
Matthew Childs | Reuters

Airline stocks slipped Monday as a highly contagious mutation of Covid-19 found in the U.K. and South Africa prompted travel restrictions by more than two dozen nations.

Countries from Italy to India to El Salvador have banned flights from the U.K. or travelers who have been in that country after officials in Britain sounded the alarm about what they said was a quick-spreading strain of the virus. Canada late Sunday said it would suspend passenger flights from the U.K. for 72 hours.

The U.S. has barred most foreign travelers who have been in the European Union or Britain since March. A White House spokesman declined to comment about whether the U.S. would move to suspend flights altogether. Officials at the State Department and Transportation Department didn't immediately comment.

The virus and travel restrictions have decimated air travel demand, particularly for international flights. Airlines have drastically scaled back their trans-Atlantic service. Delta Air Lines, for example, last year operated eight nonstop flights a day to London Heathrow and now has two flights a day. American Airlines last month, even before concerns about the new strain of the virus, drastically reduced its London service due to weak demand.

United Airlines said it won't charge passengers booked to and from London on or before Jan. 17 any change fees or fare difference if they want to fly on a different day.

Delta and United were each trading more than 1% lower on Monday afternoon. American's shares were down 2.7%, while the S&P 500 was off 0.3%.

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U.K. imposes fresh restrictions to quell new Covid strain