United Airlines has reportedly suspended scheduled services between Newark (EWR) and New Delhi (DEL) over new crew testing requirements that have been mandated by Indian health authorities. The issue came to a head after a United crew refused the post-arrival test and instead opted to return straightaway to the United States according to local media reports.
As India deals with a record-breaking COVID-19 surge that is seeing more than 300,000 confirmed infections recorded per day, all arriving passengers and crew are now required to undergo a throat or nasal polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before being allowed to leave the airport.
The crew of United Airlines flight UA802, however, reportedly refused to take the test and as a result permission to enter India was refused. Instead, the crew deadheaded back to the United States without any passengers onboard on the 14-hour flight home.
Popular flight tracking website FlightRadar24 shows the flight was cancelled for an unknown reason on Thursday. The flight remains suspended until April 24 at the earliest.
An email sent by United to some of the hundreds of passengers who have been hit by the cancellations read: “Your United Flight on Apr23 from Delhi has been cancelled because ongoing COVID-19 travel requirement discussions with local authorities are impacting our ability to operate your flight. We are working to address the issue and hope to have it resolved quickly.”
In an emailed statement to Indian financial website Money Control, a spokesperson for United said the airline was hoping to resume service as soon as possible.
“As we seek clarity regarding travel requirements to India, we have temporarily suspended service,” the airline confirmed in a statement. “We are working to provide alternate options to our customers and plan to resume our scheduled service as soon as possible.”
United has not confirmed whether Thursday’s flight from Delhi to Newark was cancelled because crew refused to undergo a COVID-19 test. However, pre and post-arrival testing are becoming increasingly commonplace and despite initial objections, most airlines have embraced the practice.
There are, however, concerns that a positive post-arrival test in a foreign country could result in a crew member quarantined in an unfamiliar setting with little access to support. Several hospitals in Delhi have recently completely run out of oxygen and there is a dwindling supply of acute intensive care beds available across the city.
Crew members who have tested positive on arrival in a foreign country have sometimes faced tough conditions – most notably in Hong Kong where several U.S. carriers threatened to discontinue service last year.
Earlier this year, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines even threatened to suspend all long-haul flights over a government proposal to make crew take a test before returning to the Netherlands. In the end, Dutch health officials agreed a compromise that see’s crew members isolate in their rooms during layovers and then take a test as soon as they arrive back.
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.