Delta Has Been Flying Empty Planes to London to Be Disinfected

Delta has been flying empty planes (so-called “Ghost Planes”) to Heathrow to be sprayed with anti-malaria disinfectant to meet Australian regulations for its flights to Sydney.  The Australian government requires planes to be sprayed with insecticide to fight malaria, but the US government does not permit the treatment on US soil.  The closest airport where it can be done is Heathrow, so Delta has been flying empty planes to the UK so they can be disinfected and sent back to Australia.

In Europe, this has caused a bit of an environmental uproar, as people complain about the environmental impact of flying an empty plane for 8,000 miles round trip.  Delta says it will be switching its disinfecting to a Chinese airport at the end of the month (why doesn’t that make me feel any better?)


  1. Wait, this is a bit confusing… how often do they have to disinfect those planes? And where does, say, UA disinfect their aircraft going to OZ?

  2. I always love the bizarre “UK-enviro angle” — the contribution to global warming is probably the LEAST interesting aspect of this story. May the US never get that nutty.

    Back to the real world: how the heck could Delta afford to fly “ghost planes” to England to meet Australia’s own peculiar environmental rules? There’s NO WAY this could make economic sense. And what kind of “treatment” could they be performing?

    Back in the dark ages (maybe 15 years ago), I remember my plane being fumigated when I landed in Oz. Flight attendants would take these aerosol cans and sprays the planes. You never felt too good about that. I guess they don’t do it anymore.

  3. I always love even more the “US-enviro arrogance” – according to the article, the reason Delta is flying ghost planes to the UK is because the US does not allow the treatment on US soil, economically hurting a US corporation, but this is not nutty at all…

    Really, back to the real world, each country has their own valid reasons to impose environmental rules and no one is forced to do business with them.

  4. I always find the environmental angle a bit odd – sure, there’s an environmental impact to flying empty planes back and forth across the Atlantic. But really, is that such a big deal?

    The bigger deal, as IAH-PHX points out, is how in the world LAX-SYD can possibly be a profiable route if it requires diversions to London & China.

  5. It also seems a bit odd that there could be some sort of fumigation treatment that the US gov’t would approve of for US aircraft — so long as it wasn’t done on US soil!

    I guess it’s possible, but certainly odd.

    My hunch is that there’s some bad reporting going on here. There’s more to this story than what’s been reported here. Given the cost of jet fuel, there’s no way on earth Delta could afford to fly empty planes to London for treatment. That would easy erase any tiny profit they might make flying LAX-SYD. It would be the equivalent of driving cross country to get my car repaired.

  6. A couple of weeks ago, I flew Delta from SYD-LAX. The plane was delayed 3 hours, by Delta. I asked the reason for the delay, and they said it was due to a mandatory fumigation required on a periodic basis for flights into Australia. Apparently the fumigation was done at SYD, and the plane had to sit empty for at least 2 hours before anyone / anything could be allowed back on it. (That said, I did not notice any chemical smell or anything else out of the ordinary upon boarding).

    All passengers received meal vouchers in the SYD airport upon check-in, and those who had tight connections in LAX were rebooked at Delta’s expense. I believe all passengers also received 2500 “Customer Relations Miles” – non-MQM (I did, and at least one other person I know did as well).

  7. This sounds like a lot of Bullshit to me , empty planes to heathrow just to service the Australian route ohh yeahhhhh…. I remember the olden days when you were sprayed by immigration on landing in oz and now they have to wait at least 2 hours for the fumes to go away ,have the mossies become that bad that we have to nearly napalm them