By Chayut Setboonsarng and Jiraporn Kuhakan
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Passengers on some flights to China will have to make do without hot meals, blankets and newspapers, as airlines step up measures to protect crew and travelers from a new virus that has killed more than 130 in the country.
Seeking to contain the spread of the coronavirus by reducing personal contact, Taiwan’s China Airlines said it was encouraging passengers to bring their own drinks bottles and would limit re-usable items by replacing them with disposables.
The airline and its regional arm Mandarin Airlines stopped from Monday serving hot meals and have replaced tablecloths and napkins with paper towels on cross-strait and Hong Kong flights.
They have also stopped providing blankets, pillows, towels, magazines and newspapers, while drinks and disposable headphones are supplied only on request.
“The seat back pocket will only contain the aircraft safety card and sick bag,” said Tigerair Taiwan, also a member of China Airlines group, adding duty-free sales were also not available.
Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd said on Wednesday amenities such as hot towels, blankets and magazines would not be offered on flights to and from mainland China from Thursday until further notice.
Thai Airways is spray-disinfecting the passenger cabin and cockpit on all flights returning from China and high-risk destinations.
“Because we have in-flight entertainment which mean the LCD screens are being touched all the time, so we deep cleanse every flight before departure,” an executive told a news conference on Tuesday.
Its video showing staff in hazmat suits spraying down a cabin drew praise on social media for the flag carrier’s efforts, although some were alarmed by it.
“Where are all the passengers on board? I think all the passengers are supposed to be kept and be monitored for one week,” social media user John Honesty posted on Facebook.
“I suggest to stop all flight from China for at list 30 to 60 days. That will not kill the economy. The life of the public is more important now than the so called economy.”
Thailand, the top destination for China’s holidaymakers, had 11 million Chinese visitors last year. But with 14 coronavirus cases, it is the second-worst hit country outside of China.
Other airlines including Singapore Airlines are allowing crew to wear masks on China flights, while American Airlines provides hand sanitizer wipes for flight attendants to use on all departures to China.
Some are taking even more drastic measures with flight cancellations.
British Airways and Indonesia’s Lion Air said on Wednesday they would suspend all direct flights to China. India’s IndiGo is also suspending flights to Chengdu and Hong Kong.
The announcements follow a decision by United Airlines Holdings Inc on Tuesday to suspend 24 U.S. flights to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai due to a sharp drop in demand.
(Writing by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Miyoung Kim, Michael Perry and Mark Potter)