Coronavirus Forces Starlux Airlines To Delay Start Of Cebu Route

Starlux Airlines is delaying its flights to Cebu until July 2020. Flights were due to begin in April, but the Philippine government’s travel bans have rendered this unworkable.

Starlux has pushed back the start date of its Cebu flights until July. Photo: Starlux via Facebook.

A report in Focus Taiwan has picked up on a social media posting by Starlux Airlines. In an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus, the Philippines government banned incoming Taiwanese visitors effective 10 February 2020.

This makes it fairly difficult for an airline based in Taipei.

Cebu flights pushed back to July

The announcement by Starlux, originally posted in Mandarin, notes that inaugurating a new flight isn’t easy and the prevention of disease requires everyone to work together. The flights between Taipei and Cebu are now set to begin on 1 July 2020. Starlux is offering full refunds to affected passengers.

Source: Facebook.

The flights to Cebu were only announced last month and is a setback for the freshly minted premium airline that is swimming against the aviation tide.

While low-cost carriers are popping everywhere in Asia, it’s not often you see a new premium airline rolled out. Flights began in January from Taipei to Da Nang, Macau, and Penang.

Starlux says coronavirus impact small, events suggest otherwise

Starlux says the impact of the coronavirus on its existing flights is “relatively small.” That’s disingenuous considering Starlux flights between Taipei and Macau are suspended until the end of March 2020.

There have also been problems with the Da Nang flights. On 1 February 2020, Vietnamese authorities refused to accept a flight carrying 167 passengers. After negotiations, that ban was later lifted but it caused a significant delay.

Starlux A321neo
Starlux took delivery of its first A321neo aircraft in 2019. Photo: Starlux

An employee checklist to contain the threat

Starlux has also posted online what looks like a checklist of procedures for Starlux employees in a bid to minimize the coronavirus threat. They are asking all frontline staff to keep an eye on passengers and fellow employees. Starlux notes everyone is responsible for disease prevention.

UV lighting is being used as a disinfecting agent in aircraft cabins, ground vehicles, and airports. Consumables such as headphones, blankets and magazines are being disinfected with UV lighting and/or scrubbing with alcohol solutions.

Special attention is being paid to on-board meals, tray tables, utensils, crockery and glassware. All are being sterilized and this is being monitored daily.

A setback for the airline

The new airline has enjoyed a wave of positive publicity, adroitly masterminded by CEO Chang Kuo-wei, a disaffected offspring of the founding family of EVA Airways. A viral outbreak doesn’t fit into the good news narrative.

But the impact can hardly be “relatively small.” Coronavirus is crippling aviation in Asia. Traffic between China and South Korea has dropped 54% since the outbreak. Starlux’s suspended Macau services are contributing to that figure.

Benchmarking against SARS

The 2003 SARS outbreak is a commonly used benchmark when trying to assess the impact the 2020 outbreak might have on airlines.

At the height of the SARS outbreak, revenue per passenger kilometer among Asian airlines fell by 35%. Over the course of 2003, passenger traffic in Asia dropped 8% and Asian airlines lost an estimated USD$6 billion in revenues.

The coronavirus is a significant hiccup for Starlux. Starlux via Facebook.

Right now, in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, there are lots of unknowns for the aviation industry. Has the outbreak peaked? If not, when? When will governments start lifting travel restrictions?

Whether they admit it or not, these factors are surely taking some of the gloss off the glossy Starlux start-up. If this outbreak keeps on, deferring the flights to Cebu might be one of Starlux’s lesser problems to deal with.