Why Delta’s return to China may include a stop in Seoul
05/28/2020|11:43:29 AM|The Points Guy

Delta Air Lines hopes to resume flights to China next month with plans to return to Shanghai. But the the airline is covering its bases and does not plan to offer a nonstop flight from the U.S., at least not initially.

In the face of quarantines for passengers arriving in China, all of Delta’s flights to Shanghai Pudong (PVG) will stop at Seoul Incheon (ICN), according to Cirium schedules. That stop, despite appearances, is not to improve connectivity for travelers, but instead to ensure that none of the carrier’s crews have to disembark in China.

“Because of the quarantine restrictions, we don’t want any of our crewmembers to stay in China,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian told staff during a virtual town hall on Wednesday viewed by TPG. “By connecting over Seoul we can bring some passengers into China.”

Atlanta-based Delta will offer up to two daily flights between Seoul and Shanghai beginning June 3, Cirium schedules show. One flight will originate in Detroit (DTW) and the other in Seattle (SEA) with both flown on an Airbus A350-900 fitted with 306 seats, including 32 Delta One business class suites.

Passengers transiting between international flights — even one on the same aircraft — often have to disembark and board again. In addition, Delta cannot sell tickets for travel between just Seoul and Shanghai — in other words, all passengers must begin or end their trips in the U.S.

The proposed schedule is subject to Chinese government approval. The status of this is unclear due to an ongoing tit-for-tat between China and the U.S. Department of Transportation over resuming flights.

Delta’s plan to stop in Seoul enroute to Shanghai is a throwback to the Asia network it inherited from Northwest Airlines. Northwest connected many travelers flying between the U.S. and cities in Asia over a hub at Tokyo Narita (NRT) airport. Delta closed the Narita hub in March, shifting to either nonstop flights or a connections with its partner Korean Air over Seoul.

Under Delta’s initial plan to resume China flights, it scheduled nonstops to Shanghai from both Detroit and Seattle. Those flights have been replaced with the one-stop services via Seoul.

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