Airlines Switch Flight Staff to Save Crew From Trump-Ban Limbo

  • Lufthansa, Emirates among carriers compelled to modify rotas
  • Trump order affects pilots, cabin crew as well as passengers

Trump Assistant Epshteyn: Travel Ban List Not Final

Major airlines including Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Emirates are modifying staff rosters to keep crew members from getting caught up in President Donald Trump’s executive order barring people from seven predominantly Muslim states from entering the U.S.

Dubai-based Emirates, the world’s largest long-haul carrier, said it has made “the necessary adjustments” to rotas as it understands that the Trump edict also applies to flight crew from the countries. Lufthansa, Europe’s third-biggest airline, said it’s having to adjust since the new U.S. policy also affects those staff who hold two passports. 

Global airlines like Emirates and Lufthansa are among those most affected by the Trump ban, since the seven countries targeted -- Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya -- have few or no direct American flights, compelling their citizens to connect via Western Europe and the Persian Gulf region. At KLM’s Amsterdam hub, seven people with valid visas were turned away Saturday.

Carriers generally recruit cabin staff with language skills that reflect the nature of their route networks, so services to the Middle East and North Africa are more likely to have Arabic and Persian speakers who could be affected by the U.S. ban. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways PJSC also said that cabin crew from the seven countries won’t be rostered on U.S.-bound flights. Affected carriers say the number of employees involved has been small and nobody has been left stranded.

Restoring Order

Among the nations targeted by Trump, Emirates serves three of them, with onward connections to 11 U.S. cities. It has routes to Iranian capital Tehran and the pilgrimage city Mashhad, Sudanese capital Khartoum and the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Basra and Erbil. Flights to Syria, Yemen and Libya have been suspended due to the conflicts there.

Lufthansa operates to Iran and Iraq and about 20 American cities, including Washington, DC. The German group serves Tehran from Frankfurt, Vienna and Munich, and also flies to Isfahan from Vienna. In Iraq, it offers flights to Erbil in the Kurdish controlled north from Vienna and Frankfurt.

The U.S. government said earlier that it’s taking steps to restore order to the air-transport industry following a weekend of chaos sparked by the travel ban. Permanent U.S. residents from nations covered by the Trump order should no longer be detained at American airports, and no one covered by the ban should be getting on planes overseas, the Department of Homeland Security said.

The agency’s statements late Sunday sought to end confusion in which travelers, gate crews and immigration officers were left to contend with conflicting edicts. On one side was the presidential order halting travel; on the other, three U.S. court orders blocking parts of the ban.

Airport Protests

At New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, protesters on Saturday chanted “Let them in!” and “No hate! No fear! Immigrants are welcome here!” Thousands more gathered from Atlanta to Detroit on Sunday to oppose the restrictions, while at Los Angeles International Airport demonstrators packed into the terminal for foreign flights and snarled traffic outside.

In the hours after the Trump order, many foreign airports imposed blanket bans on U.S. travel for citizens from the seven countries. Students, refugees and dual citizens were stuck overseas, and businesses warned affected employees not to risk leaving the U.S.

In the Gulf, Qatar Airways, Etihad and Dubai-based Emirates are advising passengers from the seven nations that they can fly to the U.S. if they hold green cards or NATO visas, or are diplomatic officials or UN representatives. Etihad also said people of dual nationality may travel if they hold a passport from a country not affected by the ban and have a visa. That’s a contrast from the weekend’s turmoil.

“There are people who boarded flights to the U.S. and were sent back,’’ said a woman who works on the ground staff at Dubai airport. “They left before the decision was made. Then they yelled at us after a 16-hour flight each way.’’

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