British Airways pilots and cabin crew are engaged on 28-hour duty days to operate flights to and from Hong Kong without ever stepping off the plane in order to avoid strict quarantine rules. Similar flights are being operated to India where each plane carries two full sets of crew to avoid layovers in the COVID-19 stricken country.
The outbound flight from London Heathrow to Hong Kong takes around 11 hours according to data provided by flight tracking website FlightRadar24. The return flight is even longer at nearly 13 hours. With a turnaround on the ground in Hong Kong, the time spent on the same plane is already at 26 hours.
But with time spent preparing for departure from London, the duty period is said to come in at 28 hours in total. The flight time to and from Delhi and Mumbai is slightly shorter at around nine hours, with a total duty time of between 22 to 24 hours.
A spokesperson for British Airways confirmed the airline was currently operating flights to Hong Kong with two sets of crew to ensure the safety of crew who would otherwise have to go into quarantine for two weeks as part of the territory’s extreme response to the pandemic.
The airline said that the measure was temporary and that approval had been given from aviation authorities to operate the unusual flights. One set of crew are able to rest the entire outbound flight and then work the return sector, while the other crew work on the outbound flight and rest all the way back to Lndon.
Since December 2020, British Airways has only carried passengers one way from Hong Kong to London after the UK was slapped with a travel ban by Hong Kong health officials. Passenger flights in both directions are, however, set to recommence on Sunday after the travel ban was lifted following the UK’s successful vaccine rollout.
In order to avoid layovers in India, German flag carrier Lufthansa is currently routing its flights to Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai through Dubai for a crew change. That option isn’t possible for British Airways, however, because Dubai is classed as a Red List destination by health officials.
Similar crew change stopovers have been used by a number of other airlines throughout the pandemic to avoid quarantine rules or to protect crew from the danger of COVID-19 exposure. Last year, Air New Zealand routed its flights to Los Angeles via Honolulu because Coronavirus case rates were so much lower in Hawaii compared to California.