Foreign airlines suspend Beijing flights after reroute order
Published: Mar 23, 2020 03:37 AM

The check-in counter of China Southern Airlines in Beijing Daxing International Airport Photo: Tu Lei/GT

International airlines are reevaluating their Beijing flight schedules as some have already suspended services after Chinese officials began diverting international flights to the capital to other domestic destinations in efforts to prevent imported coronavirus (COVID-19) carriers. Analysts said the move was unprecedented.

Dubai-based Emirates Airlines was the first to announce flight suspensions to and from Beijing following the latest measure.

"Due to new travel restrictions from the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration, we will suspend our operations to and from Beijing with immediate effect until further notice," Emirates said a statement on Sunday.

Emirates said its last flight to Beijing from Dubai was en route and its last departure from the capital was scheduled for Sunday night just before the new measures take effect.

Beginning at midnight Sunday, international flights bound for Beijing will be diverted to 12 Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Qingdao in East China's Shandong Province and Hohhot in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Travelers will undergo inspection, after which some will continue to Beijing while others will be quarantined for 14 days.

In total, 12 airlines - three Chinese airlines and nine foreign carriers - will be affected by the new measure.

In addition to Emirates, some other foreign airlines have also made adjustments and are considering suspending flight service, according to sources and information reviewed by the Global Times on Sunday.

Korean Air, whose flights to Beijing will be diverted to Qingdao for inspection before continuing on to the capital city, will offer flights next week but will "temporarily suspend" flights to Beijing after that, an inside source told the Global Times.

Singapore Airlines canceled a flight to Beijing scheduled for Monday, but it was unclear whether the company would implement further changes.  

Etihad Airways said in a statement its flight to Beijing would stop in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, where passengers will go through health screening and other processes. 

"The procedure is likely to be lengthy," the statement said but added it was working with global governments to implement temporary changes into their operations.

Russia's Aeroflot said that changes would not be made to its flight service to and from Beijing.  

Based on flight plans at noon on Sunday, Beijing Capital International Airport will only see 10 international flights a day beginning Monday, with more than two-thirds diverted to other cities, according to data from Chinese flight information provider VariFlight.

With the new measure, airlines face uncertainties and challenges on how to arrange returning flights for passengers and crew, according to one industry insider.

"For airlines that do not have units or crews in the cities, this brings  huge uncertainty," the insider said, who spoke on condition of anonymity, to the Global Times, adding that another challenge for the carriers would be trying to arrange transportation for passengers.

The airlines will be responsible for picking up the passengers after they're released from the 14-day quarantine period, according to a report from industry blogger Hanglvquan. 

An Air China flight from Tokyo to Beijing on Sunday was diverted to Hohhot, and after an inspection, 80 percent of the passengers were left behind, the blog said.