Delta flies Olympic athletes to Beijing

Credit: Rank Studios

Credit: Rank Studios

A Delta Air Lines charter flight carrying more than 200 passengers including U.S. Olympic athletes, coaches and trainers took off Thursday from Los Angeles International Airport bound for Beijing, where the Winter Games are scheduled to start next week.

U.S. athletes training in Europe will take other flights to Beijing.

Last month, Delta, the official airline for the U.S. Olympic team, unveiled an Airbus A330-900 emblazoned with “TEAM USA” on the side of the plane as part of its sponsorship. For the flight from LAX, it used the larger wide-body Airbus A350-900, which the company calls its “flagship aircraft.”

The reduction of international flights amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and cuts in air service to China in particular, complicated efforts to get athletes to the Olympics. Delta has suspended flights to Beijing during the pandemic, prompting the need for a special charter to transport the athletes and meet Chinese government entry requirements.

The White House last month said it would not send an official U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in Beijing as a diplomatic boycott. It cited China’s “egregious human rights abuses and atrocities in Xinjiang,” where the treatment of Uyghurs has prompted U.S. sanctions. Some have argued for a broader boycott of the Games, such as by not watching the Olympics, and some corporate sponsors of the Olympics have been criticized.

Delta’s chief marketing and communications officer Tim Mapes said at the Team USA aircraft unveiling that he doesn’t see the diplomatic boycott affecting the reach of the Beijing Olympics.

“Our interest is in the athletes,” he said. Delta will also fly Team USA Paralympians on Feb. 25 from LAX to the Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing.

The airline has Team USA commercials for the 2022 Winter Olympics that have already begun airing on TV and are shown as part of Delta’s in-flight entertainment. Delta is the official airline of Team USA for eight years, running through the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2028 where Delta will be a key sponsor.