Four pilots and at least four flight attendants for Indian low-cost airline Spicejet were forced to spend 21-hours on an empty plane after COVID-19 rules changed mid-flight and they were barred from getting off the Boeing 737 in Zagreb, Croatia.
The charter flight from Delhi to Zagreb landed in the Croatian capital on Tuesday, 11th May and the crew were expecting to get off the plane in order to get some much-needed rest in a hotel. Instead, Croatian authorities said they weren’t allowed to enter the country because they hadn’t taken a pre-departure COVID-19 test.
Spicejet claims they checked with the Croatian authorities before operating the flight and they were apparently told that airline crew were exempt from the pre-departure testing requirement. The airline believes the rules were changed mid-flight in response to the catastrophic Coronavirus situation in India.
But because the pilots were out of legal flying hours they couldn’t just simply fly back to India. Instead, the pilots and flight attendants ended up spending 21-hours on the plane while Spicejet management worked out a solution with India’s aviation authorities.
A spokesperson for Spicejet told the Times of India: “Prior to departure from India, e-mail confirmation was received from Croatian authorities that RT-PCR is not required for crew. On arrival in Zagreb, crew was told that orders have changed. Due to sudden and massive increase in Covid cases in India, they have now been instructed that RT-PCR is required.”
“Since crew could not fly back immediately due to flight duty time limitation restrictions, bedding, food and water was provided in the aircraft and the plane was cleaned.”
“DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) permission was obtained. Crew rested for 21 hours (as mandated by regulation). They then flew back to Dehli.”
Spicejet said in a statement that the pilots and flight attendants were both “comfortable” and “happy” with the arrangement.
The DGCA did decide, however, that 21-hours rest on a narrow-body plane wasn’t sufficient for the pilots and crew to operate the flight home with passengers so the plane flew back to Dehli without any passengers onboard. At least three pilots had to be on the flight deck as well to ensure they remained alert.
To get around various COVID-19 restrictions around the world, some airlines have been operating certain flights with two sets of crew – one to operate the outbound flight and the second set to operate the return flight without crew members ever having to step foot off the aircraft in a foreign country.
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.