22 Chinese nationals who were studying abroad in the United States recently attempted to return to their home country, but became stranded in Zurich, Switzerland. Due to travel restrictions as a result of the pandemic, they were unable to find flights back to China.
The Chinese consulate in Zurich did not respond to a request for comment.
On June 3, the students who have a valid U.S. visa had no choice but to fly back to the cities where they were studying. Six students had nowhere to go because their U.S. visas had expired and there were no available flights to China.
Hope in Singapore
“I graduated from university in January, but couldn’t go back to China because of the pandemic,” one of the students, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
During early 2020, when there were still flights to China, the student did not go back home because the virus outbreak was very severe in China. Soon after, there were very few flights to China, due to many countries implementing travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the CCP virus.
But in recent weeks, some countries that have curbed the virus’s spread began to ease restrictions. On May 20, the Singapore government announced that foreign travelers can transfer flights at its Changi Airport from June 2.
Upon hearing this news, the student made plans and booked flights: she would fly to Zurich, transfer to a flight headed for Singapore, and finally, transfer to a flight operated by XiamenAir to China.
On the flight LX0015 from New York to Zurich operated by Swissair that landed on June 2 morning, the student encountered 21 other Chinese nationals who were studying at high schools and universities in different American cities.
However, all of them could not take their next flight from Zurich to Singapore. Staff at the Zurich airport told them that the Singapore side were not allowing Chinese passport holders to transfer flights at its airport.
“All of us Chinese students teamed up… We asked them [staff of Zurich airport] to not send us back to the U.S.,” the student said. Then, they were told at the airport that there was a passenger flight that would fly to Beijing on June 3.
A diplomatic staff from the Chinese consulate in Zurich arrived at the airport in the evening. He told the students that the flight was a cargo plane, and that the students could not board it. He then left.
The students nonetheless decided to try their luck and arrived at the boarding gate of the aforementioned flight at 12:45 p.m. on June 3, half an hour before takeoff.
“It’s a big plane. We saw flight attendants boarded it, then more than ten foreigners [non-Chinese] boarded,” the student said. “We were told that they were diplomatic personnel from the Switzerland embassy in China.”
When the students sought an explanation from the Chinese diplomat, the staffer claimed that the flight was actually a plane especially for diplomatic staff, and that the students do not have the right to take it.
After the Beijing flight took off, Swissair notified the students that they had to fly back to New York at 5:20 p.m.
In the end, the student and her five peers did not take the flight, as they hoped to return to China. Thus, they were stranded in Zurich.
“We’re checking flight tickets to go back to China,” the student said.