A Delta Air Lines flight from Seattle to Shanghai turned around and returned to the United States roughly six hours into what was supposed to be an 11-hour voyage to China.
The Chinese consulate in San Francisco rebuked the airline, saying on its WeChat account that it had “lodged a protest” with the airline because of the mid-flight cancellation.
Delta has subsequently canceled its scheduled flight from Seattle to Shanghai until at least December 30, although it is still unclear why the airline was forced to turn around in the first place.
According to witnesses on the flight, the pilot stated that the Chinese authorities had announced a change in entrance rules shortly after departure.
The passengers were concerned that they would no longer be qualified to enter China, so the only option was to travel back to Seattle.
Delta flight DL287 took off from Seattle about 11 p.m. on Tuesday, heading for Seoul, where the crew will change and the flight will continue to Shanghai.
Although passengers are not permitted to disembark in Seoul, Delta uses the South Korean capital as a stopover to circumvent the onerous pandemic restrictions imposed on personnel in China.
The plane abruptly turned around and returned to Seattle over six hours after taking off, just as it was about to enter Russian territory.
Shanghai airport officials informed local Chinese media that entrance procedures had not changed in a long time and that no changes had been made after DL287 departed.
Passengers onboard the flight were so bewildered that they didn’t believe Delta employees and police were summoned once the plane landed in Seattle.
Delta’s representative claims that the company had no choice but to cancel the flight when rules were amended after the jet had taken off.
A spokeswoman for Tuesday’s scheduled trip from Seattle to Shanghai said that “new procedures required at Shanghai Pudong International Airport were implemented while it was in route.”
“The new procedures require more time on the ground than Delta is able to schedule there,” the carrier continued in a statement.
The Chinese consulate was unimpressed, reminding airlines that they must “protect passengers’ legitimate rights.” Passengers should only travel if absolutely essential, according to the consulate.
China has maintained its strong zero-COVID policy, which entails enforced quarantine for all new immigrants. Some students disregard the strict requirements and fly abroad to complete their studies in Western countries such as the United States.