The rapidly spreading Zika virus has not impacted bookings on Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) to Latin America and the Caribbean, its president and CEO-designate said on Thursday, but added that customers' future plans were tough to predict.
"Candidly, it would be hard to see much change," given that Delta's unit revenue to Brazil has already fallen sharply because of the country's economic slowdown, said Ed Bastian, set to become the carrier's new chief executive in May.
"We have not seen it in terms of passenger refund or change requests," he said, speaking in an interview.
The World Health Organization, citing strong suspicions of a link between the mosquito-borne virus and thousands of cases in Brazil of babies born with abnormally small heads, declared a global health emergency on Monday.
On the impact of the virus on future travel patterns, Bastian said, "It's hard to know as people look out and build their future plans if they're going to change (where they're) going" because of Zika.
Bastian's comments echoed statements from other top travel companies that it is too early to tell if the virus is affecting bookings.
Delta and other carriers have offered to refund passengers with tickets to Zika-impacted regions and to re-assign certain crew who are concerned about infection.
Bastian declined to comment on whether Delta would increase its almost 10-percent stake in Brazilian airline Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA (GOLL4.SA), but said Delta is interested in the country for the long run.
Ratings firm Moody's said on Thursday that Gol and Latam Airlines Group SA LAN.SN are most exposed to an expected reduction in air travel to Latin America due to the Zika virus.
Delta said on Wednesday that Bastian would take over as chief executive on May 2, when current CEO Richard Anderson retires and becomes executive chairman of the Atlanta-based company's board of directors.
Bastian said he does not see goals or strategy changing when he assumes the top job at Delta, which is the world's No. 1 airline by market value.
(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by Christian Plumb and Frances Kerry)
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