Connecting Flights: How PA Airports Get Stranded Flyers Home

By Cheryl Albiez, Media Relations Staff

Amidst international travel restrictions over the coronavirus pandemic, travelers from various parts of the world who have found themselves stranded across the region can now go home through repatriation flights organized by airlines operating through Newark Liberty and John F. Kennedy International airports. 

At Newark Liberty, the Terminal B operations team has played a key support role for these repatriation efforts. Nearly 1,800 passengers have been able to fly back to their home countries on Ethiopian, Air India and Pakistan International Airlines. 

One of the most involved efforts has been the Vande Bharat mission – India’s massive repatriation operation after the country suspended all international travel in March before going into lock down to curb Covid-19 infections. Earlier this month, the repatriation effort from Newark began the process of returning hundreds of Indian citizens to their homeland. 

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Port Authority Terminal B Operations staff were on site to assist Air India with the repatriation flights

Arranging repatriation flights to countries where flying has been restricted has its own set of complexities. But it was the airport community’s strong partnership that made managing these challenges possible.

Unlike commercial flights, repatriation flights are planned in only a few short days, or even hours. U.S. and foreign government and embassy officials both at home and abroad work with Newark’s Terminal B operations staff, Port Authority Police (PAPD), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in helping the airlines ensure citizens are able to get home.

“The airport is operating under compelling circumstances,” said Tom Bock, Newark Liberty’s Operations Manager. “Those involved have specific roles which have to be closely coordinated with other partners in both front and back-end logistics.”

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Flight plans are established and coordinated with the Federal Aviation Administration and Customs & Border Protection to operate these unscheduled flights. The airlines not only have to secure necessary approvals amid the current international restrictions, but manage crew scheduling, particularly with the new screening protocols for flight crews eligible to work on these flights.   

Terminal B staff worked with the respective airlines to secure gates and provide staff to support planning and execution, as well as coordinate the customer experience aspects of the operation.   

In the latest wave of repatriation flights, the Newark Liberty Airport community worked seamlessly to repatriate over 600 citizens to India this month on two B777 aircraft. The mission began May 7 and is ongoing, with an additional flight departing on June 7.

“Working together was critical to ensuring the success of these repatriation flights”, said Brian Rohlf, Terminal B’s International Operations Manager. “With strong communication from the airlines and a proactive approach to meet a short planning timeline, it all came together with very happy Indian citizens flying back home.” 

With health and safety on the top of mind, Terminal B staff and PAPD were onsite to assist passengers with social distancing. For the Air India flights, representatives of the Consulate of India and an onsite physician were present to assist Indian citizens and take temperature readings of all those traveling home. Only asymptomatic passengers are permitted to board the flights. 

TSA coordinated with the airline regarding the number of passengers to ensure adequate staffing for screening lanes and baggage processing. CBP arrived in full protective gear to medically process arriving passengers safely and quickly while maintaining social distancing protocols. Several other repatriation flights are scheduled at both Newark and JFK through other airlines.

Travelers seeking information regarding repatriation flights are encouraged to register for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. For additional information regarding potential flights home can be found through the Department of State

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