Amid the turbulent Corona outbreak, several airlines are helping stranded passengers return home. In addition, commercial aviation plays a critical role in transporting medical supplies between countries.

Airlines around the world have grounded a large proportion of their aircraft fleet. Thousands of workers in the airline industry have been laid off due to the impact of COVID-19 on the airline industry. We wrote about Qatar Airways last week, which is going against the tide in the aviation industry by maintaining one-third of its routes. However, other airlines have also taken some unconventional measures to help stranded citizens return home. Usually, the Ministry of Foreign affairs provides practical services with the required permits to allow airlines to fly to a destination they usually do not. Most airlines have now eased their rules and offer passengers free cancellation or other compensations.

SAS to Peru

SAS flew to Chicago last week with medical supplies, and this week they have a flight from Peru. The flight from Lima upcoming Thursday became quickly fully booked. Business Class tickets were sold for 21,000:- Danish Krones, SAS Plus for 15,000:- Danish Krones, whereas a seat in the Economy Class was sold for SEK 11,000:- Danish Krones. The tickets were only sold to Danish citizens and travellers with permanent residence in Denmark.

The on-board service is limited, only snacks and non-alcoholic drinks are served. It is not the individual country that pays for the passengers’ journey from Peru, but the idea is that travel insurance will cover the travel costs.

Stranded by the dust storm

During last winter, SAS flew certain flights to the Gran Canarias with one of its Airbus A330 to help stranded Scandinavians return home from the holiday paradise, which was hit by African dust storms.

Austrian Airlines with a record-long non-stop flight 

A Boeing 777-200ER from Austrian Airlines landed in Vienna last Monday after flying passengers home from Sydney. The 16,000 kilometres trip to Sydney was flown non-stop and took 17 hours, as they only had crew onboard the aircraft. However, the return flight had a stop-over in Penang Malaysia, as the weight of the 290 passengers and their baggage limited the range capacity. In this stopover, the crew was changed, the fuel filled and medical equipment, such as disposable gloves manufactured in Penang, was loaded onboard the aircraft.

Recently, the UK government signed an agreement with Virgin, Easyjet, Jet2, British Airways and Titan Airways to help stranded travellers back to the United Kingdom. Also, the UK government have pledged up to GBP 75 million for charter flights to destinations where there are stranded British citizens.

Using manpower to pushback an airplane

Another airline that faced a challenge was Spanish Wamos, which was hired to fly a group of Spaniards home from the international airport of San Pedro Sula in Honduras. Wamos used a Boeing 747-400 for the trip, but it turned out that the airport did not have equipment for such a large aircraft type to carry out the pushback. The largest aircraft that normally use the airport is a smaller Boeing 767, so creativity was required before Wamos could set the course back to Madrid. The solution was to have about 30 airport employees pushing the airplane, weighing up to 335 tons, by manpower backwards to a safe distance from the terminal building, as shown in the following video:

Not surprisingly, there are practical challenges when airlines fly to new destinations. The Danish company, Great Dane, experienced this last week when it was supposed to pick up 72 Danish students from Zanzibar with an Embraer 195. The aircraft does not have enough range to fly non-stop from Aalborg to Zanzibar, and therefore the flight was scheduled to refuel in Egypt. When the plane took off from Aalborg, they had no permission to land in Zanzibar and had to work hard to secure the formalities. Only during the stopover in Hurghada did Zanzibar grant the landing permission, which was then suddenly withdrawn. Following pressure from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the university’s people in Zanzibar, the final landing permit was issued at the very last moment, and the Danish students were finally able to return home.

There are many examples, and it is delighting to see airlines cooperating closely