EasyJet and British Airways are cancelling flights as a result of coronavirus.

The UK budget carrier is also imposing a series of measures, including recruitment and pay freezes, to counteract the impact from the virus.

The airline revealed a “significant softening of demand and load factors” to and from airports in northern Italy, where a number of towns are in lockdown.

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EasyJet also reported “some slower demand” across other European markets.

“As a result we will be making decisions to cancel some flights, particularly those into and out of Italy, while continuing to monitor the situation and adapting our flying programme to support demand,” the airline said in a stock market update.

“While it is too early to determine what the impact of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak will be on current year outlook and guidance for both the airline and holidays business, we continue to monitor the situation carefully and will update the market in due course.”

The airline added: “Our procedures for dealing with communicable diseases are similar to those developed during the SARS epidemic and other global health emergencies.

“In the meantime, to help mitigate the impact from COVID-19 we will be focusing on delivering operational efficiency and cost savings across a number of areas of the business.”

EasyJet coronavirus measures

  • Budget cuts in administrative areas and discretionary spend
  • Recruitment, promotion and pay freezes across the network
  • Postponement of non-critical project and capital expenditure
  • Offering unpaid leave and halting non-mandatory training
  • Working with third party suppliers to further reduce cost
  • Aircraft reallocation for summer 2020 which will offer the highest revenue opportunities on market recovery.

BA confirmed that 56 return flights from Heathrow and Gatwick to Italian destinations, including Milan, Bologna, Bergamo, Venice and Turin, would be cancelled between March 14-28.

Six return flights from Heathrow to Singapore will be cancelled every other day starting from March 15 to March 25. BA normally runs a double daily service but will continue to fly to Singapore every day.

Flights to Seoul are also being cancelled every other day between March 13-28. BA has already cut services to Hong Kong.

Customers on cancelled services will be offered the option of a full refund, rebook to a later date or rebook on other carriers where possible.

BA said: “To match reduced demand due to the continuing coronavirus issue, we are merging a number of flights between March 14 and March 28.

“We will be contacting customers on cancelled flights so we can discuss their travel options, including rebooking onto other carriers where possible, full refunds or booking with BA for a later date of travel.”

BA owner International Airlines Group said: “We are currently experiencing demand weakness on Asian and European routes and a weakening of business travel across our network resulting from the cancellation of industry events and corporate travel restrictions.

“Some of the freed-up long-haul capacity is being redeployed to routes with stronger demand.

“British Airways has announced additional flights to India, South Africa and the US, while Iberia is increasing capacity on US and domestic routes.

“Capacity on Italian routes for March has been significantly reduced through a combination of cancellations and change of aircraft gauge and further capacity reductions will be activated over the coming days.

“We also expect to make some capacity reductions across our wider short-haul network. Short-haul capacity is not being redeployed at this stage.

“The net impact of current flight cancellations and redeployed capacity is to lower IAG’s FY 2020 planned capacity by approximately 1% in terms of available seat kilometres to 2% for the year.

“Our operating companies will continue to take mitigating actions to better match supply to demand in line with the evolving situation. Cost and revenue initiatives are being implemented across the business.

“IAG is resilient with a strong balance sheet and substantial cash liquidity to withstand the current weakness.

“We have a management team experienced in similar situations and have demonstrated that we can respond quickly to changing market conditions. We are strongly positioned for the expected recovery in demand.

“Given the ongoing uncertainty on the potential impact and duration of COVID-19, it is not possible to give accurate profit guidance for FY 2020 at this stage.”

The announcement came as IAG reported a slump in annual profits after tax for 2019 down 40% year-on-year to €1.7 billion.

Outgoing chief executive Willie Walsh said: “These are good results in a year affected by disruption and higher fuel prices.

“We demonstrated our robust and flexible model once again through additional cost control and by reducing capacity growth to reflect market conditions.”