A Delta Air Lines flight from Seattle to Shanghai mysteriously turned back and returned to the United States nearly six hours into what should have been an 11 hours flight to China. The mid-air flight cancellation has resulted in a rebuke from the Chinese consulate in San Francisco which said on its WeChat account that it had “lodged a protest” with the airline.
Delta has since cancelled its planned service from Seattle to Shanghai until December 30 at the earliest but it remains unclear why the airline was forced to turn around in the first place.
According to witnesses on the flight, the pilot suggested that a change in entry requirements had been announced by the Chinese authorities at some point after takeoff. There was a fear that the passengers were no longer eligible to enter China so the only alternative was to fly back to Seattle.
Delta flight DL287 departed Seattle at approximately 11 pm on Tuesday bound for Seoul where the crew are meant to swap over and the flight continues onto Shanghai. Passengers aren’t allowed off the plane in Seoul but Delta uses the South Korean capital as a stopover to avoid onerous pandemic restrictions that are placed on crew in China.
Nearly six hours after takeoff and just as the Airbus A330 was entering Russian airspace, the plane suddenly turned back around and made its way back to Seattle.
Local Chinese media have been told by Shanghai airport officials that entry rules have not changed in some time and no sudden change had been made after DL287 departed. Passengers onboard the flight were so perplexed that they didn’t believe Delta staff and police were allegedly called once the aircraft arrived back in Seattle.
A spokesperson for Delta insists that the airline was left with no choice but to cancel the flight because rules were changed after departure.
“New procedures required at Shanghai Pudong International Airport were implemented while it was en route” a spokesperson said of Tuesday’s scheduled service from Seattle to Shanghai.
“The new procedures require longer time on the ground than Delta is able to schedule there,” a statement from the carrier continued.
The Chinese consulate remained unimpressed, telling airlines to “guarantee passengers’ legitimate rights”. The consulate also reminded passengers not to travel unless absolutely necessary.
China has retained its strict zero-COVID policy and requires all new arrivals to go into mandatory quarantine. The tough rules don’t put off some students from travelling abroad to complete their studies in Western countries like the United States.
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.