Airlines around the world have been operating special routes to repatriate stranded travelers to their home countries.
1. Qantas’ first-ever nonstop flight from Darwin to London
Qantas re-routed its flagship route Sydney-London QF1 to fly via Darwin rather than Singapore, as the city-state had closed its borders as part of COVID-19 measures. The return flight QF2 from London to Sydney also returned via Darwin. This made Darwin the second Australian city to see a nonstop flight to the United Kingdom.
QF1 from Sydney to Darwin departed at 5 p.m., arriving in the state capital of Northern Territory at 9:15 pm local time after a 5-hour 45-minute journey. Then it took off for London at 11 p.m., arriving at 6:15 am the next calendar day after 16 hours and 45 minutes in the air.
The return journey at 16 hours 10 minutes was a little shorter, with QF2 leaving at 10:05 p.m. local time in London to reach Darwin at 11:45 pm the next calendar day. From Darwin, the flight continued onto Sydney, departing at 1:15 a.m. and arriving and 7 a.m.
This unusual arrangement lasted until the end of March, when Qantas stopped all international flights.
2. Wizz Air flies to the States
The Hungarian low-cost carrier operated two repatriation flights in order to help stranded Americans and Canadians on the outbound journey from Hungary. Meanwhile, the flights also took Hungarians back to Budapest on its return.
On March 31, two Airbus A321neos departed Budapest bound for Keflavik, Iceland for a technical stop. The first, HA-LVC, planned to continue on to New York and Los Angeles on flight WZZ9011, while the second, HA-LVE, flew on to Toronto, followed by Chicago and Miami on flight WZZ9021.
These journeys were unusually longer than the jets’ typical flight length, which is 7,400km, according to Airbus.
3. Austrian Airlines’ longest flight in its 60-year history
With its nonstop repatriation service from Vienna to Sydney, Austrian Airlines clocked the longest flight in the company’s six decades of operation. OE-LPD, a Boeing 777-200ER, departed the firm’s hub on a 17-hour journey that spanned 16,000km.
The Austrian flag carrier also operated two more flights, both on Boeing 777s, from the Austrian capital to Xiamen, China to bring back medical supplies from the country.
4. Lufthansa brings stranded travelers home
While Kenya isn’t a regular destination for Lufthansa, the airline made an exception to help bring home German tourists with a flight from Mombasa, Kenya to Frankfurt on March 30 with an Airbus A340.
More interestingly, the station manager from Nairobi drove for seven hours to handle the departure, considering this was a relatively unusual destination for the German flag carrier.
Prior to this, Lufthansa also flew a Boeing 747 from Frankfurt to Auckland, a journey that took more than 20 hours after the jet spent two hours grounded in Japan. This service was part of the German government’s efforts to repatriate its citizens.
This Auckland flight is among the many repatriation flights Lufthansa is operating to cities around the world over the following weeks. Other destinations include Panama, San Jose, Lima, and Manila.
5. Qatar Airways touches down in Brisbane
To help stranded travelers get home, Qatar Airways made its debut flight to Brisbane. The Qatari flag carrier is using a Boeing 777-300ER for its daily flights to the Queensland state capital. Aside from launching a new service to the city, Qatar Airways is adding 48,000 more seats to its services between Doha and Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth using Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s. The airline plans to operate a double daily service to Melbourne and Perth, while the Sydney route will go thrice daily.
6. Air Tahiti sets record for world’s longest flight
In an unusual twist, Air Tahiti broke the record for the world’s longest flight, previously held by Singapore Airlines’ Singapore to New York/Newark service—a 15,343km journey. The airline’s flight between Pape’ete in Tahiti and Paris/Charles de Gaulle in France on March 15 became a nonstop 15,715km flight as travel restrictions by the United States meant that the Boeing 787 Dreamliner couldn’t make its usual stopover in Los Angeles.
7. Iberia’s A350 expedition
The Spanish flag carrier is utilizing two of its Airbus A350s to Shanghai, part of a project by the airline and two Spanish firms, Fenin and Grupo Oesía, which aims to bring back medical supplies and personal protection equipment from China. On March 30, EC-NBE and EC-MXV departed Madrid bound for Shanghai-Pudong International Airport. All three flights have arrived back in Madrid, each carrying 30 tons of equipment, with the latest touching down on home soil on April 1.
8. SWISS’ longest flight
On March 27, SWISS made history with its longest-ever flight—a 14-hour journey between Zurich and Santiago, Chile. Operated with a Boeing 777-300er, the special repatriation flight brought home 254 passengers.
Thanks to the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, tourists from Switzerland were brought home from South America on three Edelweiss Airbus aircraft. The first A340 landed in Lima, Peru on March 25 and returned the same day with around 300 Swiss nationals onboard. Meanwhile, a second A340 landed in the city on March 30 with about 30 Peruvians and left the next day with 300 more Swiss and European nationals.
Operated by an Edelweiss A330, the final flight landed in Bogotá, Colombia on March 23 and departed the next day for Zurich.
9. Condor saves cruise ship passengers
After being stranded at sea off the West Australian coast in a standoff with authorities, hundreds of cruise ship passengers aboard The Artania finally boarded flights for Germany on March 29. Germany’s Condor Airlines said that 800 passengers embarked on four planes in the Western Australian capital, Perth, bound for Frankfurt. The cruise ship was docked in Fremantle after an earlier ban was reversed following a spike in COVID-219 cases on board.
10. Two Ethiopian Airlines 777s land in Miami
According to the Miami Herald, two Ethiopian Airlines 777s flew from Miami to Addis Ababa on March 30. These flights were meant to bring home healthy crew members aboard the Costa Favolosa and Costa Magica cruise ships, which have been left out at sea for a couple of weeks due to COVID-19. As such, cruise lines have been chartering several planes out of Miami, including these two Ethiopian Airlines 777s, and also some Wamos Air 747s. These passengers will be heading to the Philippines.
11. Aegean Airlines flies in more than 1.78 million masks
An Aegean Airlines flight arrived in Greece from China, bearing large batches of medical supplies, including more than 1.7 million surgical masks. These supplies, meant to combat COVID-19, included uniforms and face shields, which were donated by the Onassis Foundation and Greek Shipowners. According to government officials, it is the largest donation of health care supplies to date.
12. El Al goes to Australia, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Peru
The Israeli flag carrier has been operating some unusual repatriation flights, which have brought travelers home from destinations such as Bogotá, Colombia; Lima, Peru; San Juan, Costa Rica; and Perth, Australia. Operated with Boeing 787s, these flights marked the first time the airline has flown to any of these countries.
13. AirBaltic flies to China
In response to a request from the National Health Service of the Republic of Latvia, AirBaltic has brought 900,000 face masks and 80,000 respirators from China to Latvia. This was made possible by loading an Airbus A220-300 with cargo only for the nonstop journey from Urumqi back to Riga in six hours.
14. British Airways rescues stranded citizens
On March 30, two repatriation flights carrying British passengers from Peru landed at Heathrow Airport. These British Airways flights left Lima on Sunday and touched down at the west London hub on Monday morning. Arranged by the Foreign Office in partnership with British Airways, these flights were meant to rescue more than 1,000 stranded Britons.
15. Alitalia flies to Mozambique
Working together with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alitalia has organized special repatriation flights from airports it does not typically serve. Maputo, the capital and largest city of the Southeast African nation of Mozambique, witnessed the arrival of an Alitalia Boeing 777-200ER to retrieve the employees of an oil company earlier this week. In Asia, the airline flew to Goa’s Dabolim Airport for a one-off service to rescue 250 Italians trapped due to India’s three-week national lockdown.
16. LATAM touches down in Bali
Thousands of Balinese are known to work on cruise ships across the world, and with the sudden shutdown of the industry, crew members have been left with nowhere to go. In South America, cruise operator MSC chartered a LATAM Airbus A350XWB for a humanitarian flight to bring Indonesian citizens stranded in Brazil back home. The flight left São Paulo on March 29 for Johannesburg, South Africa, where it made a brief stopover before continuing to Denpasar, marking the very first time LATAM has landed in Southeast Asia.