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Midair turnaround of flight to Shanghai was due to new COVID rules, Delta says

Passengers wait at Pudong International Airport terminal
Passengers await their flights at Pudong International Airport in Shanghai in July.
(Andy Wong / Associated Press)

Delta Air Lines said Monday that new pandemic-related cleaning requirements at a Shanghai airport were behind the turning back in midair of a recent flight from Seattle, a move that prompted a protest from the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco.

An emailed statement said the new mandates at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport “require significantly extended ground time and are not operationally viable for Delta.”

It wasn’t clear what the rules were and what prompted the change, but it comes as China tightens its already strict COVID-19 travel restrictions in the face of a growing outbreak in the city of Xian and ahead of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in six weeks.

Xian, which is about 600 miles southwest of Beijing, reported more than 300 new cases over the weekend, a sharp rise from previous days. The city of 13 million people has been locked down, with only one person per household allowed out every two days to shop for necessities.

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The Delta flight that turned back to Seattle last week left passengers with expired COVID-19 test results and U.S. visas, according to Chinese media reports.

Two Taiwan-based airlines, China Airlines and EVA Air, have both cut down on the number of flights heading to Pudong International Airport in recent days, citing new disinfection procedures that will take longer to complete, according to Taiwan’s semi-official Central News Agency.

Airlines canceled hundreds of flights Saturday as staffing issues disrupted holiday celebrations during one of the busiest travel times of the year.

EVA is suspending flights from two cities to Shanghai until Feb. 3. China Airlines is suspending flights from one city to Shanghai until the end of January, and reducing the number of flights on another route.

The Chinese Consulate in San Francisco did not name Delta but said in a short statement Sunday that many flights from the U.S. to China had been delayed or canceled in recent days, including a flight that turned back more than halfway to its destination.

The consulate “had made a stern representation to the airline,” the statement said.


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