Jet2 planes from the UK to Spain have turned back in mid-air as the airline cancelled all flights to the country due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The dramatic move by the low-cost airline comes after coronavirus cases rose by more than 1,500 to 5,700 in Spain and the government put 60,000 people in four towns on enforced lockdown.
Jet2, which is based at nine UK airports, has halted all flights with immediate effect to mainland Spain, as well as the Balearic and Canary Islands, including Majorca, Ibiza, Menorca, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Tenerife and Fuerteventura.
It goes further than guidance issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office yesterday, which warned Britons against all but essential travel to Madrid, La Rioja and the municipalities of La Bastida, Vitoria and Miranda de Ebro.
Jet 2 said in a statement: “In response to local measures introduced throughout Spain to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including the closure of bars, restaurants, shops, and activities including any water sports, we have taken the decision to cancel all flights to Mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands with immediate effect.
“We know these local measures will have a significant impact on our customers’ holidays, which is why we have taken this decision.
“We are contacting our customers who are currently in these destinations, and who are due to travel, to advise them of their options, so we urge customers not to call us.
“This is a fast-moving and complex situation and we are reviewing our programme as a matter of urgency, so that we can fly customers back to the UK.
“The health and safety of our customers is our number one priority, and we would like to thank our customers for their understanding.”
In the face of the escalating crisis, Jet2 has already cancelled all flights to Italy as well as a host of other destinations, including the Czech Republic, Austria, Malta and Cyprus.
Meanwhile, LOT Polish Airlines, which flies to UK airports including Heathrow, Edinburgh and Nottingham, has suspended all connections from both Poland and Hungary for a period of 10 days from 15 March.
The continuing cancellations underline the problems faced by the airline industry, which has been hit hard by the global outbreak, with plunging demand, ever-tighter travel restrictions and worried travellers opting to stay at home.
The industry is bracing itself for further airline failures following the collapse of regional operator Flybe.
Norwegian Air has moved to slash 4,000 flights and temporarily lay off half of its workforce.
Only on Friday, the boss of British Airways warned coronavirus was more serious for the industry than 9/11 and the 2008 financial crash and that jobs would be lost.
In a video message to staff, headlined “the survival of British Airways”, chief executive Alex Cruz said: “It is a crisis of global proportions like no other we have known.”
“Please do not underestimate the seriousness of this for our company.”
BA, which employs 45,000 people, has declined to comment on how many jobs could go.
Meanwhile, Alexandre de Juniac, the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned industry losses now would be “probably above” the $ 113bn (£90bn) that it estimated a week ago, following Donald Trump’s decision to impose a 30-day ban on all travel to the US from continental Europe.
The IATA has already urged governments to consider extending credit, reduce costs and cutting taxes for struggling airlines.
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