* Article updated 08:05 UTC 15/09/2021 with further information from Air Canada *
Air Canada has decided to re-route its Hong Kong-bound flights via the South Korean capital of Seoul. The decision comes after some of the airline’s crew have had to quarantine in Hong Kong following a reported positive coronavirus test. Such action may see the carrier avoid a flight ban in Hong Kong, which other airlines have already been subjected to.
Four crew members detained
Air Canada’s decision to re-route its Hong Kong-bound flights to Seoul reportedly comes as a result of some of its crew members being detained upon arrival in Hong Kong. Specifically, the Toronto Sun reports that this came about after a pilot from an Air Canada flight, which had four crew members onboard, tested positive for coronavirus.
This led to the crew being detained by Chinese authorities last Thursday, despite the fact that the other three members tested negative. Interestingly, the pilot who reportedly tested positive is fully vaccinated, and had a negative PCR test before leaving Canada.
#12145: 60/M arrived from Canada on AC7235 September 9th. Tested positive in DQH Hong Kong SkyCity Marriott Hotel
L452R mutation strain positive
Received two doses of COVID-19 vaccination (AstraZeneca and Moderna) in Canada on March 20 and June 15
— Aaron 🇭🇰 (@tripperhead) September 11, 2021
According to an Air Canada spokesperson, the pilot in question was asymptomatic throughout the flight. This could raise suspicions regarding the legitimacy of his alledged positive test. Air Canada stated in a memo that it is “working with all stakeholders, including the Canadian government, to facilitate an expeditious return of this crew to Canada.”
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.
Re-routing Hong Kong-bound flights
It is reported that the affected crew are currently being held in a government facility. In the meantime, the Canadian Consulate in Hong Kong is working to secure their release. Hong Kong’s restrictions presently include a 21-day quarantine. To avoid further quarantine issues, and even a potential flight ban, Air Canada has re-routed its flights.
The Canadian flag carrier and Star Alliance founding member presently flies to Hong Kong International (HKG) from Toronto (YYZ) and Vancouver (YVR). Starting yesterday, its Hong Kong-bound flights have been making an intermediate stop at Seoul Incheon (ICN).
According to Paddle Your Own Kanoo, Seoul will be the site of a crew change. This will mean that pilots don’t have to leave the aircraft in Hong Kong, risking a potential quarantine. RadarBox.com shows that Seoul-Hong Kong is only a two-and-a-half-hour flight, meaning that a fresh crew can easily make a return trip without exceeding their hours.
An Air Canada spokesperson offered the following statement to Simple Flying:
“Given the newly added restrictions required to enter Hong Kong, Air Canada made the decision to suspend its direct cargo and passenger operations effective September 13, 2021. As of Sunday, our flights will now make a stop in Incheon (Seoul) to allow for a crew change. As a result, our crews will no longer be laying over in Hong Kong, they will be laying over in Seoul.”
They later added: “Three of the four pilots have now been released, so only one remains.”
Other airlines temporarily banned
Hong Kong has taken a strict approach to airlines that bring coronavirus-positive passengers or crew into the region. Indeed, Simple Flying reported last month that it had banned Turkish Airlines and Philippine Airlines from landing there. This came about after each carrier operated a flight to Hong Kong with three positive-testing passengers onboard.
The temporary measure prohibited the offending carriers from flying to Hong Kong between August 29th and September 11th. Similarly to the Air Canada case, a Philippine Airlines spokesperson told Simple Flying at the time of its ban that “all three passengers presented negative COVID-19 test results when they checked in for their flights.”
What do you make of this operational alteration? Have any of your flights during the pandemic had extra stops due to such restrictions? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.