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Mexico travel curbed as tour operators halt flights

Written by editor

Air travel tightened to Mexico, the country at the center of the swine flu outbreak, as Air Canada, WestJet Airlines Ltd. and Transat A.T. Inc.

Air travel tightened to Mexico, the country at the center of the swine flu outbreak, as Air Canada, WestJet Airlines Ltd. and Transat A.T. Inc. joined Europe’s two largest tour operators in suspending flights.

Argentina halted direct flights from Mexico City until May 4, and Cuba said air service with Mexico would be suspended for 48 hours, according to a statement on government-run media Web sites. At least three cruise lines said they’re suspending Mexican port calls.

The moves may herald similar steps at more airlines as business and leisure fliers adjust plans. While U.S. carriers such as Delta Air Lines Inc. haven’t scrubbed flights, some extended the grace period for passengers to change Mexico trips without penalties.

“I don’t think anyone was expecting no cancellations,” said Matthew Jacob, an analyst at Majestic Research in New York. “This has been very much in the news, and there is going to be some impact.”

Officials in Mexico City ordered all 35,000 restaurants shut to help slow the spread of the influenza strain blamed for 159 deaths in Mexico. The first death in the U.S. was confirmed today, two days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged travelers to skip nonessential trips to Mexico.

‘No Need’

The U.S. isn’t considering Mexico travel restrictions, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in Washington. “It’s not being considered because there is no need to consider it,” he told reporters. “If there was danger, we’d consider it.”

The Bloomberg U.S. Airlines Index of 13 carriers rose 3.5 percent, after falling for two straight days. Delta gained 14 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $6.22 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Air Canada rose 1 cent to 81 cents in Toronto, while WestJet fell 7 cents to C$12.05. Transat, Canada’s largest tour operator, increased 39 cents, or 3.7 percent, to C$11.

Air Canada, the country’s biggest airline, said it would suspend flights to Cancun, Cozumel and Puerto Vallarta until June 1. The Montreal-based carrier plans to keep flights to Mexico City.

WestJet, Canada’s second-biggest carrier, will suspend flights to Cancun, Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta starting May 4. Flights will resume to all the cities except Cancun on June 20, the Calgary-based airline said. Cancun service is seasonal and will resume in the fall.

Transat’s flights from Canada to Mexico are scrubbed through June 1 and from France to Mexico through May 31. Planned flights from Mexico will continue to May 3, and trips will be added to bring home customers and employees, the Montreal-based company said.

Changing Travel Plans

Transat has about 5,000 customers and 20 employees in Mexico, a spokesman, Jean-Michel Laberge, said in an interview. Mexico flights fell to 30 this week from 45 as the peak travel season ended, and will decline to 18 next week, Laberge said.

Walt Disney Co. said today its Disney Magic cruise ship will skip a stop in Cozumel on a seven-day trip that begins May 2. Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. also have suspended stops at Mexican ports.

TUI AG and Thomas Cook Group Plc, Europe’s biggest tour operators, canceled all U.K. flights to Cancun. TUI said customers of its Thomson and First Choice units will return from Mexico on their scheduled flights and the company won’t send any more vacationers to the country until May 8.

Arcandor AG’s Thomas Cook unit canceled flights for seven days and is allowing customers booked on trips to Mexico to switch to an alternative destination.

Changing Plans

Consorcio Aeromexico SA, Mexico’s largest airline, and Grupo Mexicana de Aviacion SA, the carrier sold by the government in 2005, are letting passengers change travel plans because of the virus, while U.S. carriers began widening the travel window in which passengers can amend Mexico itineraries without penalties.

AMR Corp.’s American Airlines is allowing changes to travel booked through May 16, 10 days more than its initial policy. US Airways Group Inc. extended the no-fee policy by 10 days, to May 8, while Continental Airlines Inc. will let fliers shift trips through May 6, eight days more than it initially allowed.

The U.S. industry is following precautions suggested by the CDC to help keep swine flu from spreading, said James May, chief executive officer of the Air Transport Association trade group representing major carriers.

“No one should panic,” May said in a statement.

‘Not Extraordinary’

American has “experienced a slight increase in calls” from passengers wanting to change or cancel trips, Tim Smith, a spokesman for the Fort Worth-based carrier, said today.

American is providing Mexico-bound planes with kits that have masks, gloves, hand-sanitizing wipes and thermometer strips for use by crew members as needed, according to the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Delta, the world’s largest carrier, already stocks masks and gloves on its aircraft, said Betsy Talton, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based carrier.

Continental is operating a normal schedule. Some customers are calling to change travel plans, said Julie King, a spokeswoman, who declined to give a figure. US Airways also said it hasn’t canceled any flights.

FedEx Corp., the world’s largest cargo airline, is maintaining its flight schedules while remaining “prepared to take whatever precautions we need,” CEO Fred Smith said today in an interview in Washington.