Air France jets at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris, France. Picture: REUTERS
Air France jets at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris, France. Picture: REUTERS

Paris/Cairo — Unions at Air France have demanded the carrier stop flying to China, cabin crew representatives told Reuters, amid concern that the flights may expose employees to the coronavirus and help spread infections.

The main Air France flight attendants’ unions asked managers at a meeting on Wednesday to end the flights to Beijing and Shanghai, officials at the UNAC and SNPNC unions said.

“When the staff see that other airlines have stopped flying there, their reaction is ‘Why are we still going?’,” UNAC president Flore Arrighi said.

European rivals, including Lufthansa and British Airways, have suspended China operations, but Air France and its Dutch stablemate KLM have maintained services on a reduced schedule reflecting a slump in demand.

Air France said it had no immediate comment on its discussions with unions. “Air France is monitoring the rapidly evolving situation in real time,” a spokesperson said. “The health and safety of its crew remain the absolute priority.”

Timelapse video shot at Melbourne's Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity shows a sample of the coronavirus successfully growing in the laboratory.

The number of deaths from the fast-spreading virus in China has risen to 170.

The call for a halt to China flights was raised during a full works council on Thursday, and some pilots’ representatives also backed the demand, union officials said.

Air France has already put in place a voluntary system allowing pilots and crew to opt out of China flights with no loss of earnings, and shortened staff layovers in Beijing to try to reduce their potential exposure to the virus.

Meanwhile, Egyptair has suspended all flights to and from China starting on Saturday over the coronavirus outbreak, the civil aviation ministry said in a statement on Thursday.