United Airlines has axed its a newly resumed service between San Francisco (SFO) and Hong Kong (HKG) over a new COVID-19 testing requirement for aircrew including pilots and flight attendants. Authorities in Hong Kong introduced mandatory antigen testing for crew members, including maritime and aircrew, in the last few days after several recent confirmed cases were traced back to crew members.
Pilots and flights attendants had previously been exempted from undergoing the deep throat saliva swab testing that is otherwise mandatory for all new arrivals entering Hong Kong.
The decision to pull United Airlines flight UA877 was apparently driven by United’s pilot’s union who were not happy with the invasive nature of the PCR test conducted at the AsiaWorld-Expo Center next to Hong Kong International Airport. American Airlines has also axed its services to the city for the same reason through at least August 5.
In a statement, a spokesperson for United confirmed services to Hong Kong had been cancelled “due to recent changes in testing protocol at HKG.” The airline said it was still “assessing how this impacts our future operations”.
At the time of report, United had only cancelled scheduled services to Hong Kong through July 10 but this is likely to be extended. Pilots and flight attendants who had just arrived in Hong Kong will no longer layover in the city and will instead deadhead straight back to the United States.
For airlines still operating to Hong Kong, crew members will be made to undergo a mandatory COVID-19 test on arrival but will not be expected to go into quarantine unlike returning citizens. If, however, the test comes back positive, Hong Kong authorities say they will arrange appropriate hospital care for the crew member.
Official advice from the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recommends that health screening methods for crew members are “as non-invasive as possible.” The guidance also says crew should not be subjected to the same testing or restrictions imposed on other travellers.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.