Some 120 China-bound passengers got left behind at Newark on the weekend. A crewing issue delayed the plane, meaning the affected passengers would miss their connections out of Narita into China. There was uncertainty over whether Japan would allow the Chinese passengers to transit overnight, so United Airlines decided not to uplift the passengers.
Passengers bumped off the flight at Newark Airport
Initially, the passengers good to go on United Airlines UA79 out of Newark on Sunday, August 16. UA79 is United’s regular flight from Newark Airport to Tokyo Narita. The affected passengers were transiting at Narita before traveling onto either Fuzhou and Hangzhou.
The flight was delayed by three hours because of a crewing issue. Usually, the flight pushes back at 11:30, but on Sunday, UA79 left at 14:30.
Better late than never, but for the Chinese passengers heading home, it meant they would miss their connecting flights at Narita. The Fuzhou-bound passengers were connecting onto the mid-afternoon Xiaman Air flight, and the passengers going through to Hangzhou were due to board an ANA flight.
But strict quarantine rules in Japan deny entry to any non-Japanese traveler who has been in the United States within the last 14 days. A United Airlines spokesperson told Simple Flying;
“Due to the current quarantine restrictions in Japan, we were not able to board the passengers who would have missed their connecting flight to China as a result of the delay.”
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The airline did not want to run the risk of Japan rejecting passengers
Usually, passengers out of the United States doing a quick transit in Narita were exempt from this rule. Protocols are in place to safely manage these passengers as they move between flights. But there are only one or two flights a day between Narita and Fuzhou and Hangzhou. It was questionable whether Japan would accept the stranded passengers for up to 24 hours.
Rather than run the risk of Japan denying the Chinese passengers entry, United Airlines decided not to board the passengers at Newark. If Japan had denied entry, United Airlines would have been responsible for returning the passengers to the United States.
Airlines routinely deny boarding to passengers if the airline thinks they will have return the passenger to the point of departure. Issues such as incorrect or incomplete paperwork, invalid visas, or in this case, a potentially lengthy transit, can cause problems at arrival airports.
Passengers impacted, United working to resolve the problem
According to the Xinhua News Agency, United’s decision did cause a lot of problems for the stranded passengers. The news agency reports seats on China-bound services are at a premium, and many passengers had waited months to fly. Now, they say they face another wait. The report states many of the impacted passengers had pre-positioned in New York to catch the flight. Many were returning to China permanently. They had packed up their lives in the United States, and many were close to their visa expiration dates.
United Airlines acknowledges this and says it is working on getting the passengers home as quickly as they can.
“We’re sorry for the inconvenience and are working to get these customers to their final destination as soon as possible,” the United Airlines spokesperson said.