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” that 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 midway 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 The advisory has since been rescinded.
On Friday night, military action led by the United States saw missiles fired on Syrian government facilities held by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack in the Syrian city of Douma.
American Airlines said the company “regularly monitors global geopolitical issues” and made 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.
Lengthy delays for Hong Kong, Beijing-bound American Airlines passengers as carrier avoids Russian airspace
A source with knowledge of the matter said the decision to re-route 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 move 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. Renewal is dependent 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.
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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 board flight 187 from Chicago also fared badly, leaving at 6pm on Saturday – due to arrive in Beijing at 8.20pm on Sunday – but eventually arrived eight hours late.