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Due to the covid-19 pandemic, flying (from Germany, but presumably also from other countries) to China is a bit complicated these days:

  • The Chinese transportation authority only allows one flight per week per airline per country of origin. Thus, there is currently a total of eight direct flights from Germany to China per month.
  • In addition, airlines are penalized for importing covid-19 cases. If too many passengers turn out to be covid-19-positive, the respective airline will be banned from conducting flights from that destination for a month.
  • A few foreign airlines start getting permits to conduct flights to China again. From Germany, this would be Lufthansa. However, at least according to reports circulated on Chinese social media, already the very first flight, in June, was overbooked, leaving some passengers stranded in Frankfurt airport without a visa to enter anywhere other than China, and with Lufthansa offering them to either get a refund for their ticket or get one of the next available seats in September.
  • Of the relatively little capacity for passengers to travel from Germany to China that is available, quite some is used up by Chinese nationals who use the connection from Germany to China as the second leg on their attempted return from the U.S.

As a result, many Chinese citizens are stranded abroad - such as my Chinese in-laws, who have arrived in January on their 90-days Schengen visa and are still here now, in July, with no idea how or when they can return.

They are on Air China's waiting list (somewhere beyond position 200, which has barely changed during the past couple of weeks), and will have to pay the difference to their original fare (for the originally planned, but cancelled return flight) once there are any free seats.

For now, they should be fine visa-wise until the end of September, though their prolonged Schengen visa is only valid for Germany, thus travelling from another Schengen country is not an option. Likewise, they only speak Chinese, so they cannot change flights anywhere outside of China on their own as they'd be totally lost.

What is a practical way for them to proceed?

  • Rely on the waiting list, even though it may mean they have to stay for several more months.
  • Book tickets with various airlines, hoping that one such connection will actually end up flying. Of course, this means spending four-digit sums of Euros and possibly not getting back some of it, or at least only a few months later.

Is there anything they can do to increase their chances of speeding up their return? Or, conversely, is there anything they should avoid doing, so, if they cannot leave Germany before the prolonged visa phase eventually ends, they cannot be accused of "not trying hard enough"?

  • 1
    Airports are generally quite used to dealing with language barriers -- changing planes in a third country may be a better option than you think. You could give them a written English page with details of their itinerary that they could show to airport staff for help if they got lost. travel.stackexchange.com/questions/37636/… has other tips. Of course it depends on their precise situation but people with minimal foreign language skills connect through foreign airports all the time. – ajd Jul 7 at 1:27
  • You've explored the direct flight options, and ruled out the indirect flight options. I don't know what more we can add. Governments are not blind to the plight of the thousands of people stranded by the current situation. Your in-laws might do well to hunker down where they are, keep in touch with their embassy and the German immigration authorities, and wait it out. – user105640 Jul 7 at 3:12
  • @Arthur'sPass: Some chatrooms on social media have been set up by Chinese stranded like that, and a few people have shared the response they got by the Chinese embassy, which basically boiled down to "We can't help, you have to somehow find your own way." Plenty of people had complained to the transportation authority that imposes the flight restrictions, but as far as I'm told, the only reaction to that was that said authority shut down their public message board. Therefore, my in-laws do not see contact to Chinese authorities as a fruitful route and have no tried themselves. We are ... – CnHost Jul 7 at 4:46
  • ... indeed in touch with the respective German offices for foreigners and they have been quite helpful so far; I'm just a bit wary that this helpfulness may end at some point. – CnHost Jul 7 at 4:47
  • @ajd: Thank you for the suggestion. I will try and bring up the option again, though resistance to that path has been quite strong when I last mentioned it. With some people apparently getting sent to quite unexpected places (e.g. one report circulated on Chinese social media talks about a group of Chinese flying back from the U.S. via Zürich, but then being denied boarding to their connecting flight in Zürich and instead getting put on a flight back to the U.S., despite having no valid visa for a new immigration there), a transit in any foreign place is deemed too risky by my wife. Note ... – CnHost Jul 7 at 4:58
4

Transiting via Hong Kong might be one option, since the airport reopened to transit passengers on June 15, is easily navigable by a Chinese speaker, and is not subject to the same flight restrictions since it's not considered an "international" destination by China. And indeed, doing a quick sanity check on Google Flights, all available flights from London to Beijing in the next few weeks route through Hong Kong!

Note that, as non-residents, they will not be allowed to enter Hong Kong proper and all the usual methods of overland transit (ferry etc) are also suspended, so they will have to book a direct transit via Hong Kong on a single itinerary.

Update: Cathay Pacific, which is effectively the only carrier you could use, states "During this first phase, there will be no transit services to and from destinations in Mainland China." It's unclear how long "this first phase" will last though, so I'd keep an eye on this.

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    I had thought of that, though my wife insists that is not an option; if that were possible, many Chinese would take that route. But apparently, according to what is shared on Chinese media, Chinese citizens are not allowed to board flights to HK, or even buy the respective tickets. – CnHost Jul 7 at 4:40
  • @CnHost Don't trust media; contact HK immigration at enquiry@immd.gov.hk – Crazydre Jul 7 at 6:22
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    @Crazydre Unfortunately Cathay Pacific's official site agrees, and I've updated my answer accordingly. – lambshaanxy Jul 7 at 7:13
  • @lambshaanxy And TIMATIC; just checked it – Crazydre Jul 7 at 7:33

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