British Airways flight BA81 took off from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) as usual on March 23, 2020. As per schedule, it was expected to land in Kotoka International Airport (ACC) in Accra, the capital of Ghana some six hours later. Instead, the flight time was cut short in half and the passengers disembarked the Boeing 747 just where they started ‒ in London.
Flight BA81 is a daily scheduled British Airways flight that connects the capitals of the UK and Ghana. On March 23, the flight, operated by Boeing 747 (registration number G-CIVN), took off with nearly two hours delay.
Having passed Spain, as it was flying over the Balearic Sea, the Boeing 747 turned around and headed back to the UK, where the flight landed approximately 6:45 pm (UTC). Reports on social media indicated that the aircraft flight crew issued an emergency signal, squawk 7700.
The subsequent London-Accra flight on March 24, has been canceled. The reason for squawk 7700 and the turnaround remain unknown at the moment.
On March 21, 2020, the Government of Ghana announced the closure of the country’s borders due to increasing novel coronavirus COVID-19 spread. The border closure came into effect at 00:01 UTC on March 23 and would preliminary last until April 5, 2020. All international flights to and from Ghana are suspended.
Strange, sudden U-turns as the aircraft is mid-way to the destination has become somewhat of a norm in the past two weeks, amid the increasing spread of COVID-19 and the rising number of countries that have closed their borders for flights carrying foreign passengers.
The case that stands out the most perhaps is Jet2 flights to Spain on March 14. On the day, no less than five airline’s flights were observed to take off, fly halfway, then turn back and land at the departure airport.