American Airlines flights to China back to normal after disruption blamed on ‘geopolitical issues’

Routes from the US into Beijing and Hong Kong were diverted and aircraft refuelled due to ‘restricted airspace’ over Russia

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 12:35pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 4:36pm

American Airlines, the world’s biggest carrier, said its Asia-bound flights returned to normal over Sunday night after a day of disruption blamed on “geopolitical issues”, which forced some routes into Beijing and Hong Kong to be diverted and aircraft refuelled.

Planes flying from Dallas and Chicago to Hong Kong and Beijing were forced to land halfway through their journeys on Saturday after non-stop services were suspended due to “restricted airspace” over Russia.

The route changes prompted American Airlines to issue an alert urging passengers to reconsider their travel plans. The company has since rescinded that advice.

Lengthy delays for Hong Kong, Beijing-bound American Airlines passengers

On Friday night, in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack in the Syrian city of Douma, the US and other countries’ militaries fired on government facilities held by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

American Airlines said the company “regularly monitors global geopolitical issues” and makes changes to aircraft flight paths accordingly, when warranted. 

On Sunday, a statement by the airline cited “restricted airspace” for the disruption. It affected three flights leaving the US for Asia on Saturday, but by Sunday stopovers were no longer required.

A source with knowledge of the matter said the decision to divert was made with “some uncertainty” surrounding global events, leading to contingency plans being rolled out on Saturday.

Rival US carriers Delta Air Lines and United Airlines did not make any changes. The source said American’s decision was made out of an “abundance of caution”.

An agreement that permits US carriers to fly through Russian airspace is set to expire on Tuesday. Its renewal depends on government-led talks between US and Russian aviation officials.

It is unclear where that will leave flight operators, but it could mean further diversions and planes using airspace without permission.

The original travel alert issued to American Airlines passengers indicated they could face disruption for up to a week or more.

Russian President Vladimir Putin warns further strikes against Syria would create ‘inevitably provoke chaos in international relations’

Flights from Dallas to Hong Kong, Dallas to Beijing and Chicago to Beijing on Saturday stopped for fuel and a change of crew in Los Angeles, and then flew over the Pacific Ocean to avoid a route that skirts Russian airspace by passing through Alaska and on to Siberia.

American Airlines flight 125 left the Texan city on Saturday morning and was scheduled to arrive in Hong Kong at 4.10pm on Sunday, but did not do so until 10pm – a delay of almost six hours.

Passengers on flight 187 from Chicago also fared badly, leaving at 6pm on Saturday – due to arrive in Beijing at 8.20pm on Sunday – but arriving eight hours late.