COVID-Positive Air India Crew Flight Returns Without Passengers

An Air India flight from Sydney to Delhi was forced to return empty on Monday after a crew member tested positive. While the entire crew had tested negative in Delhi before departing for Sydney, one member tested positive upon arrival in Australia. Australia has banned all travel to and from India will effect from Tuesday.

India, International Flight Ban, Travel BubblesThe incident occurred on the last flight before Australia’s travel ban from India. Photo: Getty Images


According to Times of India, the incident occurred on an Air India flight AI302 on Saturday, 24th April. As required, all passengers and crew were required to take a pre-departure test in Delhi before flying to Sydney. All crew tested negative and were allowed to operate the 12-hour journey to Australia.

Upon arrival in Sydney, all crew members were required to take another COVID-19 test. In this test, one crew member (a cabin crew) was found positive and was immediately isolated. Under Australian rules, no passengers were allowed to fly on the return leg due to the risk of other crew being infected too. A change of crew is needed to operate the fresh leg.

Air india 787
The positive cabin crew member is currently isolating in Sydney. Photo: Getty Images

However, Air India opted to fly the 787 back without passengers, carrying cargo and important medical freight instead. Considering the dire health crisis in India, foreign medical aid is proving to be invaluable now.

Air India flight AI1302 returned to Delhi at 05:40 AM local time on Tuesday morning. Both legs were flown by a 256-seat Boeing 787-8, registered VT-NAA, according to Australia has strict caps on the number of arriving passengers per flight (as low as 30 at times), which is why Air India flies its smallest aircraft that can fly the route.

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Just one day after this incident, Australia announced that it was banning all travel from India from 27th April until at least May 15th. The decision came after the government reversed its previous decision to cut flight capacity by 30% due to rising cases. However, with the second wave showing no signs of slowing in India, Australia has decided to cancel all flights.

Air India Dreamliner Boeing 787 Arrives Into Sydney
The flight with a positive crew member was Air India’s last for the coming weeks. Photo: Getty Images

Air India was the only operator flying direct between India and Australia, operating a once-weekly service. Qantas has flown some one-off repatriation services in the past but none were scheduled for now. Currently, nearly 40,000 Australians are stuck globally due to the capacity caps, a large number of whom are in India and the UK.

Concerns mount

As India’s second wave cripples the healthcare infrastructure and testing abilities, more countries have added travel bans. Australia joins its neighbor New Zealand, as well as Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Oman, and several others with an outright ban on flights from India. Meanwhile, other countries like the UK, France, Germany, and others have tightened quarantine rules to prevent imported cases.

Air India 777-300ER
Pre-flight testing results are taking longer and accuracy is in doubt as more travelers test positive on arrival. Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

What do you think about Australia’s decision to ban flights? Let us know in the comments!