White House set to meet with airline, cruise industry CEOs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House will hold meetings this week with top executives from U.S. airlines and the cruise industry amid the growing coronavirus outbreak, a spokeswoman for Vice President Mike Pence confirmed on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a tour of the "secretary's operation center" following a coronavirus task force meeting at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington, U.S., February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

Pence, who is overseeing the administration's efforts, will meet with airline officials on Wednesday. Administration and airline officials said those planning to attend include the chief executives of American Airlines Group Inc AAL.O, United Airlines Holdings Inc UAL.O, Southwest Airlines Co LUV.N and JetBlue Airways Corp JBLU.O.

Airlines and the Trump administration have been in lengthy discussions for weeks about what information carriers should turn over to government agencies to track down passengers if they are exposed to the coronavirus on a flight.

Airlines for America, which represents major U.S. airlines, said on Monday it had offered the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “pragmatic solutions to help contain and stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.”

Carriers collect some information from international travelers but it is not always complete. The airline group said once U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) “identifies the primary reasons for the information gaps, we can better identify potential near-term solutions to close the gaps.”

Airline stocks have fallen sharply in recent weeks but rebounded from heavy intraday losses on Monday. American, which closed down 1% on Monday, is off 38% in the last two weeks. United, which closed off 0.5%, is down 25% since Feb. 13.

Pence's office said he will meet on Saturday with cruise line chief executives in Florida. He will also meet with 3M Co MMM.N executives in Minnesota, where 3M is based, on Thursday.

3M told CNBC last week it was ramping up production of its N95 respirator mask due to rising demand.

Shares in Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd RCL.N and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings NCLH.N are both down 40% since January. Major cruise lines have been canceling cruises, especially in Asia, amid sagging demand. Asia accounts for about 10% of the worldwide cruise industry, and at one point the highest number of cases outside China were aboard the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship docked in Japan.

U.S. airlines report travel demand has fallen sharply. Airlines have cut flights to Asia and Italy amid the crisis and canceled all flights to China until late April.

On Monday, Delta said it will waive change fees for all flights booked between March 1 and 31 to any international destination, citing consumer concerns about coronavirus.

Delta also said it would push back resumption of seasonal flights to Venice until May 2, a month later than previously announced.

In response to falling demand, American Airlines said on Sunday it is waiving change fees for all tickets purchased through March 16 if changes are made within two weeks.

Reporting by Steve Holland and David Shepardson; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Dan Grebler and Sonya Hepinstall