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US Airlines U-turn on Hong Kong services

written by Hannah Dowling | July 10, 2020

Hong Kong Airport (HKG) (Source: Aviation Australia Archives)

Airlines around the world are suspending flights into Hong Kong, following the announcement that all pilots and aircrew flying into the city will face mandatory COVID-19 testing.

The Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection announced on Tuesday that all air and shipping crew members arriving into the city must provide deep-throat saliva samples to be tested for COVID-19.

In light of the announcement, airlines from around the world have been forced to reconsider their decision to fly into the Asian hub, which could have dire consequences for both the involved individuals, and for ongoing operations of the airline.

According to Hong Kong officials, any crew members found with the disease will be hospitalised and treated within the Hong Kong health care system.

Further, all other flight crew will be required to quarantine within Hong Kong should any crew member test positive for COVID-19, which could wreak havoc on operations.

The first tests conducted under the new mandatory policy uncovered four cases, which included three locally-based cargo pilots who had just returned from Kazakhstan.

Since then, both American Airlines and United have backtracked on their decision to resume flights between the US and Hong Kong, which were due to resume this week.

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The decision was made to suspend Hong Kong services after the American pilot’s labour union, Allied Pilots Association, raised concerns about the mandatory testing and treatment requirements.

Both airlines were due to resume services to Hong Kong this week, however have changed their tune in light of the new testing protocols.

American Airlines has suspended services into Hong Kong until 5 August, while United has only delayed services to date until 10 July.

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“We’ve been making regular adjustments to our schedule to match demand, and we consider a range of factors including travel restrictions or entry requirements in making network decisions,” an AA spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Dutch flag carrier KLM cancelled its scheduled Amsterdam-Hong Kong flight on Wednesday, in light of the new testing protocols, with likely repercussions on the scheduled return flight.

Sources have said the airline is attempting to make an arrangement to ensure crews do not have to stay overnight in Hong Kong or get tested for the virus.

According to sources close to the matter, a coalition of European and US airlines appear to be negotiating a ‘workaround’ with Hong Kong, which would see aircrew tested prior to departure rather than upon arrival.

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