Chinese embassy, passengers lash out at Delta over midair turnaround of flight, suspected of crew shortage

By Zhang Changyue, Tu Lei and Liu Xin (Global Times) 16:24, December 29, 2021

Many domestic and international flights in the US have been canceled due to staff shortages, and recent reports that the midair turnaround of Delta Air Lines' flight DL287 from Seattle to Shanghai was due to China's entry ban did not tally with the facts, the Chinese Embassy in the US said on Tuesday.

Delta Air Lines' flight DL287 from Seattle to Shanghai turned back midway on December 22, and in a statement on Monday, the company said that new pandemic-related disinfection requirements at the Shanghai airport were behind the move, USA Today reported.

However, the Chinese Embassy in the US said in a statement on Tuesday that claiming the DL287's turnaround was due to China rejecting entry of the flight, as the media quoted some crew members as saying, does not tally with the facts, and that recently many US airlines have encountered staff shortages.

Situations of crew members worrying about flying occurred occasionally, which led to the large-scale canceling of domestic and international flights, the embassy said.

Chinese passengers on board the flight bore huge losses from the sudden turnaround of the flight. The embassy is assisting the passengers and lodged solemn representations to Delta Air Lines to urge it to protect the interests of passengers.

In response to the Global Times' questions on the incident, Delta repeated its previous statement and said the turning back of the flight was due to new pandemic-related cleaning procedures required at Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

It added that the procedures announced by the Chinese government on December 21 significantly extended ground time and were not operationally viable for the company.

However, a manager from the Shanghai Pudong International Airport previously said that the flight neither landed at the airport nor entered China's airspace. The manager said they did not know what "specific impact" China's anti-pandemic policy has caused to the flight.

An analyst from the civil aviation industry also told the Global Times previously that the midair turnaround may have been due to the shortage of crew members, which is a widespread problem for many US airlines.

"Departing from Seattle, the flight needed to land in Seoul for transit and a crew change before arriving in Shanghai, since each group of crew members has a required working time."

"Flight DL287 may have had to return in midair if there were no crew members in Seoul available," said the analyst.

Delta has prepared two sets of aircrew in Seoul for each flight from the US to China since the pandemic, one working during the section from the US to Seoul and the other working from Seoul to China and back to Seoul, said staff at Delta Air Lines, as quoted by caixin.com.

The Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco on Sunday lodged a solemn representation to Delta after its flight DL287 unexpectedly returned to the US halfway, leaving numerous Chinese on board nowhere to go, with expired visas and health codes.

Most of the passengers were Chinese nationals, and those who held F1 visas and tourist visas have been trapped in the airport as their re-entry to the US was illegal, according to passengers reached by the Global Times.

Runtu (pseudonym), a passenger on flight DL287, told the Global Times that the flight was scheduled to depart on the night of December 21 but the captain said one passenger was not well and the plane would take off after the passenger's luggage had been unloaded.

About half an hour later, the captain noted that some parts of the plane needed to be reviewed. Later, the captain said due to the weather, the flight could not leave.

All the passengers got off the plane and were put into a hotel. At 10 pm (local time) on December 22, the plane finally took off. However, after six hours' flying when the plane was over Russia, the captain noted that they needed to return to Seattle due to China's new epidemic prevention policies, said Runtu.

While Runtu had come back to the city where she lived in the US, many other passengers on the flight were still at the airport in Seattle, paying for living in hotels themselves.

Runtu said Delta's move to shift blame to China's prevention measures are disrespectful and smears against China. Runtu said a staff member working in the Seattle airport admitted to her that they learned of China's requirement for three-hour disinfection of planes arriving in China on December 21, which means Delta already knew the crew members might have to work overtime due to the changes.

Runtu said Delta could have canceled the flight in advance, rather than flying for hours and turning back midway. Runtu said the captain claimed that the turnaround was due to that China did not accept the passengers' health codes according to China's new epidemic prevention measures.

"Delta refused my reimbursement request by email," Runtu said.

According to flight tracking site FlightAware, numerous flights from the US to China have been delayed or canceled. CNN reported on Saturday that United Airlines canceled some flights because the nationwide spike in Omicron cases had a direct impact on flight crews and people who run the operations.

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


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