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Pilots' union sues American Airlines to stop flights to China amid coronavirus outbreak

APA President Capt. Eric Ferguson is asking his union members to not accept flight assignments to China and is asking those already in the country to leave.
Credit: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
American Airlines' first Boeing 787 Dreamliner prepares to depart O'Hare International Airport, Thursday, May 7, 2015, in Chicago.

DALLAS — Updated at 6:06 p.m. with more information about mandatory rest periods for pilots after flights.

The Allied Pilots Association filed a lawsuit against American Airlines Thursday in Dallas County in an effort to make the airline temporarily stop all flights to China due to the coronavirus outbreak.

APA President Capt. Eric Ferguson is asking his union members to not accept flight assignments to China and is asking those already in the country to leave as soon as possible. 

The union said each American Airlines crew member flying to China is required to be on the ground for approximately 32 hours between flights as part of mandatory rest periods. The union is worried about that amount of time crew members spend in the country. 

Additionally, it's worried about the number of people coming to the U.S. via American flights.

The Fort Worth-headquartered American Airlines has already announced a suspension of flights from Los Angeles International Airport and China, but that suspension doesn't take effect until Feb. 9. Ferguson said in a news release accompanying the lawsuit that nearly 300 passengers and crew travel to DFW International Airport from Chinese cities on each American Airlines flight.

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“The safety and well-being of our crews and passengers must always be our highest priority — first, last, and always,” Ferguson also said in the news release. “Numerous other major carriers that serve China, including British Airways, Air Canada, and Lufthansa, have chosen to suspend service to that country out of an abundance of caution. 

"The APA leadership has asked American Airlines management to follow suit, but to date they have not canceled any U.S.-China flights. We are therefore compelled to seek injunctive relief."

The APA is the largest independent pilots' union in the United States and is headquartered in Fort Worth. It represents 15,000 American Airlines Group pilots.

Lori Bassani, the national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants also issued a statement Thursday. 

 "The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) is in full support of our Brothers and Sisters at the Allied Pilots Association (APA) in their lawsuit to protect our crew members and the flying public. 

"With the recent World Health Organization declaration of a global health emergency, the coronavirus and the situation in China should be taken with the utmost seriousness. Every precaution must be taken to safeguard the health of our American Airlines crew members and passengers. 

"Until we know more and can be sure that all crew and passengers will be safe from this quickly-spreading illness, we are urgently calling on American Airlines and the federal government to err on the side of caution and halt all flights to and from China. Our safety is not for sale. We stand with our pilots.”

 APFA represents 28,000 American Airlines flight attendants.

American Airlines responded Thursday, saying that they "are taking all necessary precautions for our customers and team members":

"We are in close contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and global public health officials to make sure we are taking all necessary precautions for our customers and team members. 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."

The Associated Press and the Dallas Business Journal contributed to this report.

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