Southwest Airlines warns coronavirus may slice $300M from sales

Industry remains 'very fragile,' economist says

Southwest Airlines says first-quarter revenue will be as much as $300 million lower than it predicted as the coronavirus outbreak prompts passengers to cancel flights and avoid rescheduling.

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The trends are likely to continue through at least the end of March, the Dallas-based carrier said.

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Worldwide, the virus outbreak that began in China could cost airlines as much as $113 billion in lost revenue, according to the International Air Transport Association, an airline trade group. Governments have warned against travel to heavily affected areas and reports of transmission in enclosed environments such as cruise ships have left consumers wary.

"The industry remains very fragile," Brian Pearce, the group's chief economist, told reporters. "There are lots of airlines that have got relatively narrow profit margins and lots of debt and this could send some into a very difficult situation."

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.