Saturday, April 24, 2021

United Airlines to resume Delhi flights to US from Sunday

New Delhi: In a major relief to travellers between India and the US, United early on Saturday morning (IST) decided to resume flights to and from Delhi from Sunday (April 25) — hours after temporarily suspending them following confusion over RT-PCR testing requirement of crew members.

United, the only US carrier that flies to India currently, has nonstops between Delhi and Newark, San Francisco and Chicago. Air India is the only other airline that has direct to US destinations like New York JFK, Newark, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington. Apart from Delhi flights, United only has a Mumbai-Newark connection.

"United Airlines is scheduled to resume flights from Delhi to the United States from Sunday, April 25,” the airline said in a statement early Saturday morning (India time).

The issue with United arose when its New York (Newark)-Delhi flight UA 801 landed here on Thursday night. A disagreement on testing for the crew of this flight — who were not alighting from the Boeing 777 and were to fly back to Newark — saw the airline deciding to take off from here without boarding passengers waiting to do so at IGI Airport.

“A government (not aviation) official insisted RT-PCR test be conducted on the crew of UA 801 that was to fly back as UA 802. This despite clear orders from the aviation ministry not to do so for asymptomatic crew of quick turn around (QTA) international flights who do not alight from aircraft and fly out of India. This disagreement saw the United flight leaving for Newark without boarding passengers,” said sources.

In a Friday night statement, United said: “As we seek clarity regarding Covid-19 travel requirements to India, we have temporarily suspended service to Delhi for April 22 and cancelled the corresponding return flights. We are working to provide alternate options to our customers and plan to resume our scheduled service as soon as possible.” Luckily for passengers, the same is happening from Sunday.

The aviation ministry says it has been getting requests from airlines to exempt pilots operating international flights from RT-PCR tests, which is not allowed as per current norms here. However, it made an exception for the crew of QTA international flights who do not alight from aircraft. “Considering that cockpit crew remain within aircraft in a sterile environment of the flight deck and the cabin crew are protected by PPE, these crew operating international QTA flights are exempted from RT-PCR test on arrival at Indian airports,” says an order issued by the aviation ministry joint secretary Usha Padhee this Tuesday.

24/04/21 Saurabh Sinha/Times of India

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