Flight cancellations to US due to 5G rollout roil Indian travelers

Biden assures 5G agreement will avoid potentially devastating travel disruptions; Air India set to resume flights from Jan 21

For hundreds of Indians planning to fly to the US, a new shocker awaited as they reached Indian airports Tuesday.

After arriving at the airport, the travelers were told that several airlines including Air India, Emirates and Japan Airlines had canceled their flights to the US due to safety concerns over 5G high speed wireless services rollout by AT&T and Verizon.

The passengers were told to wait for airline services to the US to resume only at the airport. Interestingly, none of the travelers or their travel agents were informed beforehand about the cancellations.

With this latest announcement of some major airlines canceling their flights to the US, on top of an ongoing pandemic, another round of chaos and confusion roiled travelers who are planning to take flights to and from India to the US.

Read: With US easing travel restrictions, Indians worried about cancellations (September 22, 2021)

While some were worried about their impending travels and how the changed schedule would affect them, others were concerned about their relatives being stranded at the airport.

New Jersey based travel and tour operator, who runs Shivam Travels while talking to the American Bazaar from Parsipanny says, “We had about 40 of our passengers stuck in Mumbai. They were flying on Air India. All of them found out upon arrival at the airport. We were not informed.”

How did the travelers cope with these sudden changes, given the fact that travel during Covid-19 era requires additional arrangements such as RT-PCR tests etc. Bhatt says, “It is a big mess.”

“After the Makar Sankranti, Pongal and Lohri now is the time for many to return back to the US. Typically these two weeks are rush dates and this is creating a big issue for travelers.”

While most travelers are choosing to stay put and wait until a new announcement or flights resume to avoid more inconvenience, many have to travel back due to professional and personal constraints.

“Out of my 40 passengers, only five of them chose to buy another ticket and come to the US, the rest all opted to wait till the services resumed,” Bhatt said. I rebooked them on Etihad and they are traveling to the US tomorrow.”

However, President Joe Biden was quick to release a statement Tuesday assuring that an agreement with Verizon and At &T to delay 5G deployment around key airports “will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations and our economic recovery.”

“I want to thank Verizon and AT&T for agreeing to delay 5G deployment around key airports and to continue working with the Department of Transportation on safe 5G deployment at this limited set of locations,” Biden stated.

“This agreement will avoid potentially devastating disruptions to passenger travel, cargo operations and our economic recovery, while allowing more than 90 percent of wireless tower deployment to occur as scheduled.

“This agreement protects flight safety and allows aviation operations to continue without significant disruption and will bring more high-speed internet options to millions of Americans,” he added.

“Expanding 5G and promoting competition in internet service are critical priorities of mine, and tomorrow will be a massive step in the right direction,” Biden said.

“My team has been engaging non-stop with the wireless carriers, airlines, and aviation equipment manufacturers to chart a path forward for 5G deployment and aviation to safely co-exist – and, at my direction, they will continue to do so until we close the remaining gap and reach a permanent, workable solution around these key airports,” he said.

Welcoming Biden’s statement Colorado based Neena Shah said, “Its great that we got a statement from the President soon. While I feel sorry for many who were left stranded at the airports, at least now we know the problem will be solved soon.

“With Covid testing requirements being time bound, it must have been an added trouble for everyone whose flight got reschedule,” she said.

Meanwhile, Air India on January 20 said that the normal services between India and the US will resume from January 21.

The services will be effective from Thursday midnight, the airliner said in a social media post. The airline has started operating three relief flights from Thursday and the normal operations will start from Friday, effectively.

Read: Several airlines cancel US flights over concerns on 5G rollout (January 19, 2022)

“Air India@airindiain#FlyAI: Flight operations to/from destinations in USA were affected during last two days. We would like to inform our passengers traveling to/from destinations in the USA that effective 0001hrs of 21st January 2022 normal flights operations will recommence to/from USA,” it tweeted.

Air India’s decision to resume flights followed technical clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to start flying its Boeing 777 aircraft from Jan 20.

“Boeing has cleared Air India to operate in the USA on B777. Accordingly, first flight has left this morning to JFK. Other flights leaving in the day are to Chicago and SFO Arrangements to carry stranded passengers are being worked out. Matter regarding B777 flying into USA has been sorted,” the airline said in a statement.

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