UPDATE 3-More airlines ease policies for bookings to Zika-hit areas
(Updates throughout with more airlines offering refunds)
By Jeffrey Dastin
Jan 28 (Reuters) - Lufthansa, British Airways and JetBlue on Thursday became the latest international carriers to offer rebookings or refunds for tickets to areas affected by the Zika virus, as the World Health Organization expressed concern about the swift spread of the mosquito-borne disease.
The virus, which has been linked to birth defects in thousands of babies in Brazil, has provoked concern among travelers holding tickets to affected destinations. The virus is present in more than 20 countries and territories in the Americas, including Mexico, Puerto Rico and Caribbean countries that are popular with U.S. winter vacationers.
Lufthansa and British Airways both said they would offer pregnant women the opportunity to change their reservations to another destination or delay travel, although they stopped short of offering complete refunds as several U.S. airlines have.
JetBlue, which is offering refunds, so far has seen "no measurable impact" on advance bookings or customer refunds, Marty St. George, JetBlue's executive vice president for commercial and planning, said on an investor call Thursday.
Cruise lines and resorts have so far reported little impact from increasing fears about the disease. Still, some cancellations, especially among the main risk group - pregnant women - look inevitable especially as the illness becomes more widely publicized.
"We believe there could be a slowdown in bookings during this time of heightened media coverage and general fear until more information is known," airline analyst Helane Becker of Cowen and Co said in a research note on Thursday.
However, speaking in terms of the impact of the disease on airlines' performance, she added, "We do not view this virus on the same level as the Ebola outbreak in late 2014 or SARS in 2003 ... We would view a decline in shares as a result of the Zika virus as a buying opportunity." Continuación...