Delta Airlines Flight Turns Around Mid-Air Due to China’s COVID-19 Rules

By Jonathan Walker | December 31, 2021
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
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A Delta flight returned back midway on its way to China due to COVID-19 regulations. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

On Dec. 21, a Delta Airline flight that was heading towards Shanghai from Seattle turned back to the U.S. due to a change in the COVID-19 airline cleaning rules at the Chinese airport. According to Delta, there would have been substantial operational delays if the plane had gone ahead and landed at the airport in Shanghai.

“The new cleaning procedures require significantly extended ground time and are not operationally viable for Delta,” a company spokesperson said without providing any information as to what the cleaning rules imposed by the Chinese regime were. 

A spokesperson from the Civil Aviation Administration of China pointed to a COVID-19 protocol imposed in September with regard to the cleaning rules. Some of the passengers aboard the flight were left with expired U.S. visas and COVID-19 test results.

Delta isn’t the only airline that is affected by China’s stringent new COVID-19 rules. EVA Air and China Airlines, two airline operators from Taiwan, have also canceled flights to the Shanghai international airport. They blamed the airport’s new disinfection procedures for the cancellations, pointing out that complying with the requirements will take a longer time. 

China Airlines has suspended flights from one Taiwanese city to Shanghai until the end of January. EVA suspended flights from two Taiwanese cities to Shanghai until Feb. 3. Two weekly flights of American Airlines have also been affected by China’s cleaning requirements.

The Chinese embassy in the United States denied claims that the Delta flight had to turn away due to strict new laws at the Shanghai airport. Instead, the embassy blamed operational problems associated with U.S. airlines for the incident. The consulate has made a “stern representation” to Delta airlines, it stated.

“According to media reports, the flight crew concerned had stated that the return flight was caused by China’s prohibition on the entry of flights. This statement is inconsistent with the facts. Our consulate has noticed that the recent shortages of U.S. airlines have become prominent, and crew members are afraid of the frequent occurrence of attendance under the epidemic, which has led to the cancellation of large-scale domestic and international flights in the United States,” the embassy statement said.

On Dec. 28, a Bloomberg article cited an anonymous State Department official who said that talks between the two nations were underway to resolve the situation. Washington wants Beijing to modify its cleaning mandate, arguing that rigorous cleaning measures are already undertaken by international airline carriers.

At present, flights of U.S. carriers from America make a stop at other cities like Seoul or Incheon to change crews before flying into China. This helps the flight crew avoid an overnight stay that might have resulted in them being subjected to additional COVID-19 rules.