United Airlines’ service between San Francisco and Taipei is no longer nonstop, with a new technical stop and crew change in Guam. United attributes the stop to “irregular operations” but the object is likely to avoid uncomfortable quarantine hotels for crewmembers.
Taiwan Takes COVID-19 Very Seriously
The Republic of China, also known as Taiwan, has fared extremely well against the pandemic. It has reported only 1,153 cases and 12 deaths since the pandemic started (the USA, which has a population roughly 15X the size of Taiwan, has reported 28,000X the times the number of cases and over 48,000X the number of deaths).
One reason it has been successful is through an extremely accurate contact tracing system that has effectively isolated those who have contracted the virus from the wider population. Airline crews have presented a unique risk, with special rules for flight crews of Taiwanese airlines.
Another reason is trust: people are trusted to act rightly by self-isolating and in most cases do. Last week, a pair of China Airlines pilots visited a bar when they were supposed to be observing self-isolation. They had flown to the United States and back and their initial COVID-19 test was negative. But five days later they started to feel bad and tested positive.
As Paddle Your Own Kanoo noted, this matter was so serious nearly all of the ~700 members of China Airlines’ operational flight crew were required to take fresh COVID-19 tests (by the way, the pilots were fined $5,000 each and may lose their jobs).
United Airlines’ Taipei Flight Now Makes Technical Stop In Guam
While there has been no public announcement yet, perhaps stricter flight crew restrictions on the part of Taiwanese authorities has prompted United to make a temporary change to its UA871/872 service between San Francisco and Taipei.
Effective immediately, United Airlines is adding a “technical stop” in Guam (GUM) between San Francisco (SFO) and Taipei (TPE). In Guam, the aircraft will be refueled and a crew change will take place.
Crews have been advised to wait onboard until their replacement crew arrives if there are passengers onboard (oddly, United has pulled this flight for sale through end of schedule).
In Taipei, crews will be escorted to a waiting room near the jet bridge, but not even enter the terminal. No pre-departure test will be necessary since the crew will not actually enter Taiwan. The crew will operate GUM-TPE-GUM.
A source tells Live and Let’s Fly that the issue is related to the hotel United uses to house crews. It was recently shut down for 14 days after a pilot tested positive. Thus far, United has not been able to source another crew hotel that meets the requirements of the Air Line Pilots Association, the union representing pilots at United Airlines. Until a suitable hotel has been found, crews will continue to make immediate turns in Taipei. Note that it will not be Guam-based crews that operate the GUM-TPE-GUM segments.
A New San Francisco – Guam Flight?
Even though UA871/872 will be stopping in Guam, this will not be marketed as a separate flight. In fact, United employees have been advised they cannot even get off in Guam unless they are part of the crew change.
This likely has something to do with U.S. immigration, but it seems a shame that United will now operate a daily SFO-GUM flight and no passenger will be able to take advantage of it.
United is adding a technical stop in Guam on its flight between San Francisco and Taipei. While United only attributes the change to “irregular operations” it seems likely linked to the latest crew scandal and the problems related to the international crew quarantine hotel in Taipei.
image: United Airlines
UA’s been using GUM as a tech stop for cargo flights to SIN, TPE, China, etc. So this is the first time GUM is used as a tech stop for passenger flights during COVID.
Wishful thinking, but maybe it’s UA dry running a possible GUM-SFO route. It would make more sense to have the tech stop in ICN like for the China passenger flights since the routing is shorter.
Never miss an opportunity to take a “swipe” at United when you can compose an article on your personal blog based on assumptions, which are easier to gather than facts.
The “quarantine” hotel in TPE where all international airline crews have been confined and quarantined during layover had employees who tested positive for COVID. There has been suspicion that a COVID positive Indonesian pilot was the source, I am unsure whether or not it has been confirmed, and it is neither here nor there at this point.
That hotel has been closed for at least 14 days for sanitation purposes.
When it re-opens, it has been reported that it will only house China Airline layover crews and one other Asian airline which I cannot remember who it is. Not sure how long this plan will be in effect, things tend to change daily.
UA re-routing SFO-TPE through GUM makes sense, as GUM based crews can work the TPE portion and “turn” to another destination to layover. Regardless of whether or not many passengers are onboard, the much need supplies in cargo must still move.
I commend UA for attemtping to find solutions to new issues that seem to arise daily due to the pandemic.
Facts are widely available if one chooses to search for them, but facts do not tend to make for great blog headline grabbers.
Are you for real? There is no swipe at United in this story…
Do we know how long this change will be in effect for? I’m booked on 871 in late June, and United.com is still showing nonstop SFO-TPE.
I’m told it could be for as little as 14 days.
I wonder if GUM-based FAs can operate GUM-TPE-GUM. They don’t usually operate 773s, but then they can be trained in no time since many 773s have GUM layovers and fly cargo-only in and out of GUM. And there aren’t many customers to serve anyway. Another thing is Mandarin speakers. GUM has had no Chinese speaker base for a long time but there may be speakers among the GUM base to be found.
Despite being a US territory, GUM is outside of US customs zone so it will be messy for API filing and other issues if they let any non-operating crew get on or off.
GUM-based FAs can operate a 777, though I do believe the 777s that used to operate between HNL-GUM were operated by HNL-based crews and GUM-NRT 777 flights were operated by NRT-based crews.
I’ve booked a Tuesday June SFO-TPE flight. The UA official booking web site shows all Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday flights are not available, while as I called UA, their travel agent told me there will still be daily direct flight SFO-TPE in June. Which information source should I rely on?
I noticed that too. It’s a SHARES glitch (UA’s internal system). It should be fixed soon. The flight will continue to operate daily.
I am not feeling optimistic that this technical stop could last as little as 14 days as per local media reports, the TPE Novotel will not accept foreign air crews even after reopening. So they will need to arrange a suitable hotel elsewhere, or I guess continue the tech stop.
I have flights booked from SFO to TPE on UA on May 25, so it will probably affect me unfortunately (with the stop in Guam I will arrive on May 27 AM instead of May 26 PM – with the current Taiwan quarantine measures the entire May 27 AM day will be lost as the day you arrive is not counted towards the mandatory 14 day quarantine! Also this flights takes off May 25 AM instead of May 25 PM = total 1.5 days lost in this technical stop)
A real pity that passengers can’t make Guam their destination or stopover point. Finding business class award space for cheap with Turkish miles would really present some great value.
For sure! That would have been incredible.
This is fascinating — all for a hotel. I can’t believe that they can’t find a hotel in Taipei, yet they won’t have a problem housing crew in Guam??!!
The ALPA is out of their mind — powerful union. Go figure.
I’ve noticed that some recent UA872 flights have even been cancelled. I’m booked to fly TPE to SFO on May 29, do you have any info as to whether or not this flight will be cancelled??
Likely cancelled. TPE is not even allowing transit passengers any longer.
This is what I initially thought as well, but take a look at flights UA3018 and UA3019. Is it a possibility that I’ll still be able to fly? Many thanks.
It looks like cargo flights will continue regardless. Hopefully you will still be permitted to fly. But I think at this point we can only wait and see.
Come on UA, GUM is in the US, and people are looking for domestic places to visit. SFO-GUM would actually get some use. Open it up! 😛