Delta Air Lines Inc. service to China “remains very fluid” after a flight to Shanghai from the U.S. was turned back because of 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 Dec. 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 the same day the Delta flight reversed course.
U.S. airlines are experiencing crew shortages, leading to domestic flights being canceled due to surging infections driven by the omicron variant and extreme weather.
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. In response to queries on policy changes cited by Delta, a spokeswoman for the Civil Aviation Administration of China referred to a COVID-19 control protocol issued in September.
A spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. told the state-backed China News Service that media reports of changing COVID-19 rules were wrong and blamed the situation on U.S. airlines and the crew shortage. The embassy is communicating with carriers to avoid similar events from happening again, it added.
The Global Times reported over the weekend 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 unrecognizable. Many Chinese passengers on the returned flight could be forced to enter the U.S. illegally as their visas were expired, the newspaper said.
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