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United Airlines Cancels Delhi Flights Over Crew Refusal to Have COVID-19 Tests

United Airlines Cancels Delhi Flights Over Crew Refusal to Have COVID-19 Tests

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.

View Comments (9)
  • “reportedly suspended scheduled services between Newark (EWR) and New Delhi (DEL) over new crew testing requirements that have been mandated by Indian health authorities”?

    Reported by whom? United employee rumor mills?

    What new testing requirements mandated by Indian health authorities? India publishes new requirements. Where has India published new requirements for “crew testing”? I checked with some Indian authorities and they said the last updated Covid-19 rules related to international flights precede April 2021.

  • IF a crew member undergoes testing and the result is positive, there are no parameters in place regarding an individual crew member, specifically, in regards to 10 or 14(?) days of quarantining; Where this quarantine would take place (a HUGE issue):and most importantly, who has “control”, who would be running this “Covid Crew member’s Isolation Program”. From a crew member’s standpoint– a crew member that is also a US Citizen residing in the US–, if I tested negatively at departure but have a positive test result upon arrival, I would not be permitted to leave the country for, at minimum, 10 days –although, since this is not a stated procedure/no protocol given, this is likely to be 14 days. Given that India is currently experiencing a huge surge in Covid cases and, more importantly, their hospitals are at capacity and some have reported running out of oxygen and have been denying new incoming patients with care because of their full capacities, crew members cannot be guaranteed medical care, if needed, and that includes life-saving medical care. Any traveler who thinks the crew members’ request of a guarantee to be provided with all needed medical care, including a bed in a facility, and a guarantee of where an individual’s quarantine would take place, obviously, has not travelled much –at least, not in the last few years and has definitely not spent any time in India on a biz trip.

    I DEFINITELY support these crew member’s in their decision to refuse the test and entry into India. They are lucky that they have a Union to back this specific decisions(I’m looking at you Delta).

    As for all of the questions asked by the previous commenter/poster, you seem to have little, if any, grasp of a crew member’s actual work life. If I’m being totally honest, you come across as a red state, golden-statue worshipping Trumpian, who has learned, quite well, the art of diverting attention from the original topic at hand and blaming others for not answering your “completely off-topic” questions. However, I’d expect nothing less from your ilk.

    • In most international airlines the parameters are already in place due to other illness. If a crew member gets sick or injured while on layover, the company contacts the international medical contractor, sometimes directly from the flight deck while still enroute. It’s a private company, where the crewmember is guaranteed treatment and fully insured. They are not sent to a public clinic or hospital. In most situations they send the medical staff to the hotel room where the crew had their layover. And where they would quarantine if they are found to be covid positive. The only factor that is a risk of the flight being cancelled, or being flown back to base empty, would be the minimum crew law. The long haul flight cannot be flown if the number of crew onboard is less than the amount necessary to man the exit doors.
      On a side note, inserting politics into your answer only shows your lack of ability to answer questions in a well thought out meaningful way. Attacking others without actually knowing their thoughts, beliefs, or ways of thinking is not a way to get through in life.

  • To the person “Bodziak” commenting — I agreed with your comment until you went on an unhinged, stereotyping rant as to a previous poster. I voted for Donald Trump twice, and I certainly see know problem with exercising my rights or with being a patriotic, God-fearing, salt of the earth American — with a Ph.D in science. Have a nice day.

  • The crew could be shipped off to some covid internment camp. Who knows? I’m not traveling internationally right now just for the same reasons. You don’t have any idea what you are getting yourself into.

  • Two points: there must have been an outbound crew or the crew went intentionally illegal. And India has been flopping all over the place recently.
    It is possible that the requirement was recently added without the airline’s operation knowing. When I think about it that way I cannot hold it against the crew.

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