- The US government’s travel ban on certain European countries is preventing travellers who have visited the continent from entering the US, even those just passing through.
- Air France, Air Tahiti Nui, and French Bee all operate flights between Paris and Papeete, French Polynesia that stop in the US with a large number of European passengers who as of the past week can’t enter the US.
- Air Tahiti Nui and French bee have responded by rerouting flights and the latter has resulted in operating a non-stop flight from Papeete to Paris, making it the longest non-stop flight in the world.
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President Donald Trump’s proclamation on Wednesday largely restricted entry into the United States for non-citizen European residents is leading to a reduction in flights across the Atlantic and airlines potentially losing a large number of passengers affected by the ban.
The ban not only prevents European travellers to enter the US but also those who pass through the US to points to reach destinations in other parts of North America, the Caribbean, South America, or Oceania.
Unlike most countries in Europe as well as neighbouring Canada, the US doesn’t allow for airside transfers between international flights. The regulation requires all travellers to enter the country before connecting to a flight to a third country, even if the traveller has no intention of staying in the US.
While most Europeans can enter the US under visa-waiver programs, the requirement to enter the country has ruled out American cities as transit points for those who require formal visas for entry.
Despite the US government’s rules, three French airlines use the Californian cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco as stopover points for flights from Paris to Papeete, French Polynesia, a French territory in the South Pacific better known as Tahiti. Almost directly located under the near-8,500 nautical mile route, California is the ideal stopover point for the route that allows aircraft to refuel and restock before continuing the journey over the Pacific.
During the stopovers, all passengers must deplane and clear US Customs and Border Protection before returning to the aircraft for the second and final leg either to Paris or Papeete, depending on the direction of flight. Even though the entirety of their stay in the US will be at the airport, all the same formalities apply.
Three airlines operate flights between France and Tahiti including Air France, Air Tahiti Nui, and French Bee. All three have had their operations on the route impacted by President Trump’s travel ban, each taking a different approach with some more drastic than others.
Here’s how French airlines are responding to the crisis.
French bee responded by rerouted its Paris-Papeete flights through Pointe-à-Pitre in the Caribbean.
Low-cost, long-haul carrier French bee is the latest entrant to the route connecting the two French cities via San Francisco, unlike its competitors that stopover in Los Angeles. Normally, the airline carries passengers between Paris and Papeete, as well as between San Francisco and Paris and San Francisco and Papeete, maximizing the potential revenue for both segments.
With the restrictions on European arrivals in the US, which includes stopover passengers, French bee is rerouting its flights through Pointe-à-Pitre, AirlineGeeks reported. Located in the Leeward Islands chain of the Caribbean, Pointe-à-Pitre is the main gateway to Guadeloupe, another overseas French territory.
Switching to Pointe-à-Pitre from San Francisco adds around 750 nautical miles to the route, increasing flight times and fuel costs. The benefit of stoping in Guadeloupe, however, is that the territory is entirely French, meaning that the new routing is operating as a domestic service.
The restrictions will remain in place until at least mid-April when the presidential proclamation is set to expire. Paris-Papeete via San Francisco is currently the airline’s only route that touches US territory, though the airline is set to launch a Newark-Paris route in June.
French bee operates the flight with a fuel-efficient, next-generation Airbus A350-900 XWB.
Air Tahiti has avoided the US entirely, opting to fly non-stop from Papeete to Paris, making it the new operator of the world’s longest non-stop flight.
De facto French Polynesian flag carrier Air Tahiti Nui currently connects Papeete with Paris via San Francisco, its flagship route. The airline has similarly been forced to adjust to the US government’s restrictions on European residents as many passengers are travelling solely between Papeete and Paris as well as Paris and Papeete, not just between Papeete and Los Angeles.
To avoid having to subject its European passengers to US Customs and Border Protection in Los Angeles, Air Tahiti Nui is rerouting its flights through Vancouver, Canada, which allows airside transfers that do not require entering the country, and Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe.
The airline, however, decided to operate a single, non-stop flight from Papeete to Paris on Sunday, a flight so long in length that it shortly became the longest commercial flight in the world. Scheduled as TN64, the non-stop routing has a great circle distance of 8,485 nautical miles, 200 miles greater than the distance travelled by the current longest flight in the world between Singapore and Newark.
The chart-topping 16-hour and 30-minute flight is being operated by a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, the newest in Air Tahiti Nui’s fleet that is prominently featured on the list of world’s longest flights. Qantas uses the aircraft for the third-longest flight in the world between Perth, Australia, and London, United Kingdom, the only non-stop link between the two countries.
The route, however, is not longer than either of Qantas’ Project Sunrise research flight routes from New York and London to Sydney, which Business Insider reported about in October. Tailwinds in the eastbound direction enabled Air Tahiti Nui, which has been rumoured to start a non-stop flight between Paris and Papeete, to accomplish the flight which wouldn’t have been possible with the Dreamliner in the opposite direction.
Air France has maintained its flights through Los Angeles, only allowing US citizens and non-US citizens passengers who have not entered the banned European countries in the past 14 days or are not affected by the proclamation to fly.
The French flag carrier does not have plans to adjust its Paris-Papeete route which stops over in Los Angeles. Passengers who have visited the restricted European countries in the past 14 days who are not US citizens, permanent residents, or other persons excluded under the presidential proclamation will not be allowed to fly on any leg that terminates in Los Angeles.
Air France operates the flight with a Boeing 777 aircraft.