United Airlines on Sunday started rerouting its India flights to avoid Afghanistan airspace after Taliban fighters entered the capital Kabul, sealing a takeover of the country, and U.S. officials scrambled to evacuate its personnel.
“Due to the dynamic nature of the situation we have begun routing affected flights around Afghanistan airspace,” the airline said in a statement. The carrier serves Delhi from its Newark Liberty International Airport hub daily and five times a week from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. It also flies from Newark to Mumbai daily. The flights are among its longest routes.
United said it “will continue to work closely” with the Federal Aviation Administration and the International Air Transport Association “to evaluate the situation and determine how we continue service to markets impacted.”
United is the only major U.S. passenger airline currently flying nonstop to India.
The FAA on July 25 prohibited U.S. airlines from overflying Afghanistan air space below 26,000 feet, which is lower than cruising altitude for such long flights, “due to the risk posed by extremist/militant activity and limited risk mitigation capabilities.”
A United spokeswoman said the decision to route around Afghanistan on Sunday was its own.
Flydubai and Emirates said they suspended flights to Kabul.
“Customers holding tickets with final destination to Kabul will not be accepted for travel at their point of origin,” Emirates said, directing customers to reach out to the carrier or travel agents.
Earlier Sunday, Emirates Airline Flight EK640, a Boeing 777-300, returned to Dubai after nearing Kabul. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned of reports of fire at the airport.
The U.S. State Department late Sunday said it was working to secure Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport to evacuate U.S. personnel, local employees, their families and “other particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals” from the country using civilian and military flights.