Airline stocks slide as highly contagious Covid mutation in U.K. prompts travel restrictions

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A United Airlines passenger aircraft arrives over the top of residential houses to land at Heathrow Airport in west London, Britain, March 13, 2020.

Matthew Childs | Reuters

Airline stocks slipped Monday as a highly contagious mutation of Covid-19 found in the U.K. and South Africa prompted travel restrictions by more than two-dozen countries.

Countries from Italy to India to El Salvador have banned flights from the U.K. or travelers who have been in the country after officials in Britain sounded the alarm about what they said was a quick-spreading strain of the virus. Canada late Sunday said it would suspend passenger flights from the U.K. for 72 hours.

The U.S. has barred most foreign travelers who have been in the European Union or Britain since March. Officials at the White House, State Department and Transportation Department didn’t immediately comment about whether the U.S. would move to suspend flights altogether.

The virus and travel restrictions have decimated air travel demand, particularly for international flights. Airlines have drastically scaled back their trans-Atlantic service. Delta Air Lines, for example, last year operated eight non-stop flights a day to London Heathrow and now has two flights a day. American Airlines last month, even before concerns about the new strain of the virus, drastically reduced its London service due to weak demand.

American, Delta and United were each trading 3% lower Monday morning. The S&P 500’s was off 1.6%.

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