DALLAS (CN) – American Airlines pilots’ union sued the airline Thursday, demanding a halt to all its flights to China amid fears of spreading the Wuhan coronavirus.
The Allied Pilots Association sued the Fort Worth-based airline in Dallas County District Court, claiming negligence. American Airlines currently operates daily nonstop flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong from its hub at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. It also operates daily nonstop flights from Los Angeles and Chicago to China.
The union claims the virus outbreak has “created a threat to the safety of passengers and flight crew travelling to and from” China and cites the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s level 3 warning in place that discourages all “nonessential travel” to the country.
“While American Airlines has recently announced that it intends to suspend some flights to China effective Feb. 9, 2020 [from Los Angeles], it has yet to take any action to cancel/suspend flights prior to that date,” the 35-page complaint states. “Plaintiff contends that defendant’s failure to immediately cancel all flights to and from China fails to meet the standard of care evidence by other carriers in the industry.”
The union wants the court to block all American Airlines’ flights to China for as long as the CDC maintains its level 3 warning.
The lawsuit comes one day after the State Department issued a level 4 “do not travel” advisory to Hubei Province – the epicenter of the epidemic – and a level 3 “reconsider travel” advisory for the rest of China.
Hours before the lawsuit was filed, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a public health emergency, with approximately 8,000 infected patients and 170 deaths in China since December. Nearly 100 people in other countries have been infected but none have died, according to the WHO. There have been eight cases of human-to-human infection in the United States, German, Japan and Vietnam.
Union president and Capt. Eric Ferguson said other airlines including British Airways, Air Canada and Lufthansa have already halted service to China “out of an abundance of caution” but that American Airlines has refused.
“We estimate that as many as 300 passengers and crew travel to DFW alone from Chinese cities on each American Airlines flight,” Ferguson said in a written statement. “To us, that level of risk is unacceptable. Due to the known and unknown risks associated with traveling to China right now, concurrent with the filing of our lawsuit, we are directing all American Airlines pilots assigned to flights between the United States and China, other than those on return trips to the United States, to decline the assignment.”
American Airlines said it is “aware of the filing” Thursday evening.
“We are in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and global public health officials to make sure we are taking all necessary precautions for our customers and team members,” the airline said in a statement. “Yesterday, American announced the suspension of travel between LAX and Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG) as well as LAX and Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK) from Feb. 9 through Mar. 27, 2020. We will continue to monitor the situation and make any updates as needed.”
Several dozen union-represented pilots were outside Terminal D at DFW all day Wednesday, picketing American Airlines as the two sides continue to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. The Allied Pilots Association represents approximately 15,000 of American Airlines’ pilots.