American Airlines, Delta, United to require facial coverings on U.S. flights

By David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Three of the largest four U.S. airlines said Thursday they will require passengers to wear facial coverings on U.S. flights, joining JetBlue Airways Corp in taking the step to address the spread of the coronavirus and convince reluctant passengers to resume flying.

United Airlines, Delta Air Lines Inc and American Airlines Group Inc , along with the smaller Frontier Airlines, which is owned by private equity firm Indigo Partners LLC, announced they will require facial coverings next month.

Delta and United’s new rules start May 4, while Frontier’s start May 8 and American’s requirements begin May 11. The policies exempt young children from wearing masks or other facial coverings.

Many U.S. airlines are also requiring pilots and flight attendants to use facial coverings while on board aircraft.

Airlines in the United States have seen a nearly 95% drop in U.S. passengers and have slashed flight schedules. They are now working to reassure customers about the safety of air travel by instituting new cleaning and social distancing procedures.

Some airline unions and U.S. lawmakers have urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to require facial coverings for all passengers and crew.

United said it will provide complimentary masks to passengers. Southwest Airlines Co <LUV.N>, one of the largest U.S. airlines, has not required facial coverings.

The FAA has declined to implement the requirement, and it is not clear if the agency has the authority to compel passengers to wear face masks. The FAA said Wednesday it is “working with air carriers to ensure they have processes in place for addressing public health risks for their crews and passengers.”

Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, called on the FAA Wednesday to “require masks or other face coverings for all crewmembers and passengers on U.S. flights” and to require airlines “adopt reasonable, sound procedures for ensuring that passengers are spaced at safe distances from one another.”

Delta said the airline will require face coverings “starting in the check-in lobby” and at “Delta Sky Clubs, boarding gate areas, jet bridges and on board the aircraft for the duration of the flight – except during meal service.”

Delta added their use “is also strongly encouraged in high-traffic areas, including security lines and restrooms. People unable to keep a face covering in place, including children, are exempt.”

American said the rules will prioritize “customer and team member well-being.”

German airline group Lufthansa  also said this week it would require facial coverings for all passengers starting May 4.

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants union, praised the carriers adopting the requirements and added “absent federal action, we need every airline to require passengers wear face coverings to keep everyone safe in aviation.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese and Aurora Ellis)

Washington state confirms second U.S. coronavirus death; New York reports first case

By Brad Brooks and David Shepardson

(Reuters) – Health officials in Washington state said late Sunday that a nursing home resident had died after contracting coronavirus, while New York’s governor confirmed his state’s first positive case, as the virus moved out of its West Coast foothold.

The coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, has decimated global markets as it quickly moves around the world. It appeared poised for a spike in the United States, in part because of more testing to confirm cases.

Florida late Sunday declared a public health emergency as it confirmed its first two cases.

Trump administration officials worked Sunday to soothe nerves and calm fears that a global recession was looming, arguing that the public and media were over-reacting and saying that stocks would bounce back because the American economy was fundamentally strong.

The total number of confirmed cases in the United States is more than 75 with two reported deaths, both in Washington state. Globally there have been more than 87,000 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths in 60 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

In the United States, a cluster of cases is centered on a nursing home near Seattle.

The Seattle and King County public health department confirmed late Sunday that a man in his 70s who was a resident of the LifeCare long-term care facility in Kirkland and had coronavirus had died the day before.

A sign at the entrance to Life Care Center of Kirkland, the long-term care facility linked to the two of three confirmed coronavirus cases in the state, is pictured in Kirkland, Washington, U.S. March 1, 2020. REUTERS/David Ryder

On Saturday, the department had reported the first death of a coronavirus patient in the United States, a man in his 50s who was living in Kirkland – the same city where the nursing home is located. Six of the 10 confirmed coronavirus cases in Washington state have been residents or workers at LifeCare.

State officials said an additional 27 residents of the nursing home and 25 staff members were reporting symptoms of the virus, which can be similar to that of the common flu.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed on Twitter his state’s first coronavirus case, a woman in her 30s who caught the virus during a recent trip to Iran and was now in home quarantine.

Cuomo did not say where the woman lived, but the New York Times reported she was in the Manhattan borough of New York City, citing state officials.

“The patient has respiratory symptoms, but is not in serious condition and has been in a controlled situation since arriving in New York,” Cuomo said.

Stock markets plunged last week, with an index of global stocks setting its largest weekly fall since the 2008 financial crisis, and more than $5 trillion wiped off the value of stocks worldwide.

A key energy conference in Houston that brings together oil ministers and energy firms was canceled on Sunday with the organizers of CERAWeek noting that border health checks were becoming more restrictive and companies had begun barring non-essential travel to protect workers.

A world economy conference with Pope Francis due to take place in Italy later this month was also canceled.


Trump said on Sunday that travelers to the United States from countries at high risk of coronavirus would be screened before boarding and on arrival, without specifying which countries.

Delta Air Lines Inc said on Sunday it was suspending until May flights to Milan in northern Italy, where most of that country’s coronavirus cases have been reported. Flights will continue to Rome. American Airlines Group Inc announced a similar move late on Saturday.

The United States has 75,000 test kits for coronavirus and will expand that number “radically” in coming weeks, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

Vice President Mike Pence, appointed last week to run the White House’s coronavirus response, said the government had contracted 3M Co to produce an extra 35 million respiratory masks a month. He urged Americans not to buy the masks, which he said were only needed by healthcare workers. Honeywell International Inc is the other major U.S. mask producer.

He also told Fox News that clinical trials of a coronavirus vaccine would start in six weeks but that a vaccine would likely not be available this season.

Democrats, who will challenge Trump for the presidency in the Nov. 3 election, have criticized his administration for downplaying the crisis and not preparing for the disease to spread in the United States.

Pence said Americans should brace for more cases but that the “vast majority” of those who contracted the disease would recover.

“Other than in areas where there are individuals that have been infected with the coronavirus, people need to understand that for the average American, the risk does remain low. We’re ready,” Pence told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas; David Shepardson and Andrea Shalal in Washington; and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)

Second U.S. winter storm forces hundreds of flight cancellations

The Brooklyn Bridge is seen partially in fog from in front of the Manhattan skyline in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., January 12, 2018.

By Alana Wise

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A second winter storm in as many weeks caused hundreds of flight cancellations across the United States, airlines reported on Tuesday, potentially dealing a further blow to carriers’ first quarter outlooks.

As the storm sweeps across southeast Texas and up the East Coast dumping snow, sleet and freezing rain, airlines have already canceled flights into Wednesday in anticipation of difficult conditions.

American Airlines, the world’s largest airline by passenger traffic, had canceled some 270 flights between Tuesday and Wednesday as a result of the storm, it said.

Rival Delta Air Lines, the No. 2 U.S. carrier by passenger traffic, said it had canceled about 275 Tuesday flights and expected additional cancellations in New York and Boston as the storm tracked north.

The third-largest U.S. carrier, United Airlines, said it had canceled more than 700 flights on Tuesday. United was offering to waive fees for changes to flights to and from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other affected airports for scheduled Tuesday and Wednesday flights.

The storm itself is relatively minor compared to other winter weather events, and several hundred flights represent only a tiny percentage of airlines’ overall operations. But such storms are still a nuisance to carriers and can cost them millions of dollars in lost revenue.

A massive winter storm at the onset of the year caused thousands of cancellations, as several inches of snow and ice paralyzed the U.S. Northeast and forced the closure of some of the region’s biggest airports.

(Reporting by Alana Wise, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Syrian al Qaeda affiliate ‘much more dangerous’ than ISIS, new report says

While the United States continues its military campaign against the Islamic State, a new report charges that a different terrorist organization poses a greater long-term threat to the country.

Jabhat al Nusra, a Syrian al Qaeda affiliate, “is much more dangerous to the U.S. than the ISIS model in the long run,” according to a report released Friday by the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute.

“Any strategy that leaves Jabhat al Nusra in place will fail to secure the American homeland,” the report cautions.

The report offers a scathing critique of the United States’ anti-terrorism efforts in Iraq and Syria, saying the military campaign “largely ignores” Jabhat al Nusra, a group that “will almost certainly cause the current strategy in Syria to fail.”

It also argues the challenges facing the United States have been oversimplified, and warns a “collapse of world order” could allow the Islamic State and al Qaeda to grow stronger.

The report’s authors argue the United States must choose a new strategy, writing “passivity abroad will facilitate the continued collapse of the international order, including the global economy on which American prosperity and the American way of life depend.”

According to the report, Jabhat al Nusra differs from the Islamic State in its ideologies and practices. While the Islamic States seizing cities and imposes its will on civilians, brutally mistreating anyone who dissents, Jabhat al Nusra has taken a friendlier approach. It has aligned with several groups that oppose Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, a key point of contention in the nation’s ongoing civil war, and provided those groups with “advanced military capabilities.”

In doing so, the report says Jabhat al Nusra “has established an expansive network of partnerships with local opposition groups that have grown either dependent on or fiercely loyal to the organization.” The institutes charge the front has become so engaged with the opposition, it’s now “poised to benefit the most” from the downfall of the Islamic State and Assad’s removal.

“The likeliest outcome of the current strategy in Syria, if it succeeds, is the de facto establishment and ultimate declaration of a Jabhat al Nusra emirate in Syria that has the backing of a wide range of non-al Qaeda fighting forces and population groups,” the report states. Such an emirate would be a key component of al Qaeda’s global terror network, providing manpower and resources to other affiliates while “exporting violence into the heart of the West.”

The report calls al Qaeda and the Islamic State “existential threats” to Europe and the United States, and concludes that while the groups don’t currently have the ability to topple the West, they — along with broader turmoil in the world — threaten the way of life in those nations.

The report argues there are several public misconceptions about national security in the United States, namely that the Islamic State is the nation’s only enemy. The situation is far more complex, the report argues, and stretches far beyond the borders of the Middle East.

Groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda are benefitting from events such as North Korea’s nuclear testing, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Europe’s ongoing migrant crisis, the report’s authors wrote, calling them “symptoms of a collapsing world order” that exacerbate the threat.

Conflicting policies of Iran, Russia and China have also helped fuel the collapse, the report says.

“The collapse of world order creates the vacuums that allow … organizations such as al Qaeda and ISIS to amass resources to plan and conduct attacks on scales that could overwhelm any defenses the United States might raise,” the report states. “Even a marginal increase in such attacks could provoke Western societies to impose severe controls on the freedoms and civil liberties of their populations that would damage the very ideals that must most be defended.”