Delta Air Lines Inc service to China “remains very fluid” after a flight to Shanghai from the US was turned back because of the procedures needed to clean and disinfect the airplane, the carrier said.
The flight returned to Seattle in order “to be compliant with cleaning mandates required at Shanghai Pudong International Airport that were issued by
the Chinese government on
December 21,” Delta said in a statement.
The requirements, which would have significantly extended ground time, are “not operationally viable,” the airline added. The changes were announced on the same day the Delta flight reversed course.
US airlines are experiencing crew shortages, leading to domestic flights being cancelled due to surging infections driven by the omicron variant and
At the same time, China is also stepping up border restrictions because of Delta variant outbreaks and detection of the new virus strain among travelers from other countries, just weeks before the Beijing Winter Olympics are set to begin in early February.
Delta didn’t provide any additional information on flights to Shanghai or elsewhere in China. United Airlines Holdings Inc said it’s doing its best to comply with the new rules while continuing to fly to Shanghai from San Francisco four times a week. American Airlines Group Inc didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment outside of business hours.
It wasn’t clear what sanitation procedures authorities in China have recently put in place that prompted the Delta flight to turn back. A spokesman for Shanghai’s airport declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Civil Aviation Administration of China referred to a Covid control protocol issued in September in response to Bloomberg queries on policy changes cited by Delta.
A spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in the US told the state-backed China News Service that media reports of changing Covid rules were wrong and blamed the situation on US airlines and the crew shortage. The embassy is communicating with carriers to avoid similar events from happening again, it added.
Local media Global Times reported that the air crew of Delta flight DL287 informed passengers of a change in China’s entry policy that would make the health status of everyone aboard unrecognisable. Many Chinese passengers on the returned flight could be forced to enter the US illegally as their visa were expired, the newspaper said.