China Loosens Restrictions On International Flights, But Is It Enough?

Filed Under: Uncategorized

Update: See here for the latest decision from the US DOT.

Well that didn’t take long — the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) has reversed its stance on international airline service just hours after the US Department of Transportation (DOT) banned Chinese airlines from flying to the United States.

China’s “unfair” aviation policy

Yesterday the DOT banned Chinese airlines effective June 16, 2020. The reason was because China was refusing to allow any US airlines to fly to China, even though four Chinese airlines continue to fly to the US.

What essentially happened is that China (rather arbitrarily and retroactively) claimed that airlines could only offer as much service to China as they offered on March 12, 2020. As of March 12 no US airlines flew to China (in light of the current pandemic), and as a result China has argued that US airlines shouldn’t be allowed to fly to China at all.

That’s perhaps an oversimplification, but I wanted to keep the recap as short as possible, so check out my previous post for all the details.

US airlines were essentially banned from flying to China

China backtracks, will allow one weekly flight

The CAAC has backtracked. As of June 8, 2020, foreign airlines can fly one international passenger flight to one mainland Chinese city each week. This applies exclusively to countries that previously served China, and therefore for countries that China has a bilateral aviation agreement with (since the country doesn’t participate in Open Skies).

This will allow many airlines — including American, Delta, and United, in the US — to resume service to China. The once weekly limit is a major restriction, though, since it means between the three airlines there would only be three weekly flights.

US airlines can now offer three weekly flights to China

China will punish airlines that bring in COVID-19

The CAAC is also creating a punishment and reward system to encourage airlines to not transport passengers with COVID-19:

  • If an airline for three consecutive weeks doesn’t transport any passengers on flights to China who test positive for COVID-19, they will be allowed to open one more flight to China each week
  • If an airline transports five passengers on flights to China who test positive for COVID-19, flights to China will be suspended for a week, while if the number reaches 10, flights will be suspended for four weeks

I can appreciate China wanting to do what it can to minimize the number of incoming COVID-19 cases, though one has to wonder how airlines could act differently in light of this policy.

The reality is that US airlines may encourage passengers to wear masks and may do temperature checks, but aside from that there’s not really a mechanism by which US airlines are testing people for COVID-19.

Unless US airlines add some sort of additional screening, this unfortunately seems like something airlines won’t have much control over. The reality is that the airport experience is very different in China than in the US.

China will punish airlines transporting COVID-19 positive passengers

Will one weekly flight be enough, though?

While I’m sure US airlines are happy to see the CAAC so quickly reverse its stance, the battle isn’t over for US airlines. Now each US airline can operate a single weekly flight to China, but we’ve repeatedly heard US airline executives say that’s not enough.

The economics of once weekly service just don’t work well, since it means crews would need to lay over for an entire week (or deadhead back), which just isn’t realistic.

For example, United shows daily flights between San Francisco and Shanghai for at least a week in July, so clearly something is going to have to give.

In fairness, China is applying the same rule to Chinese airlines, so this isn’t a case of China being unfair towards foreign airlines.

US airlines want more than one weekly flight to China

Bottom line

It’s nice to see the CAAC backtracking so quickly on its unfair aviation policy. China often doesn’t give in so easily, so I could have also seen this spat lasting much longer.

Even with this permission, though, it doesn’t change the fact that once weekly service just isn’t viable for many US airlines, so there’s more to this battle.

The concept of creating a rewards system around not bringing in passengers with coronavirus makes sense on the surface, but realistically that’s not something that US airlines are really positioned to police at the moment.

  1. How hysterical that CHINA brought COVID to the US and Europe and kept quiet about it until way too late and now they will “punish” airlines that bring it back to them. Really hysterical.

  2. The Chinese government is wrong and they know it. Unfortunately, they won’t really admit it. Time to stop flying to China I say!

  3. In terms of crew logistics for a single weekly flight, I believe Delta’s plan to have a ‘technical’ stopover at ICN for crew change should be able to accommodate this requirement (Delta had planned both DTW-ICN-PVG and SEA-ICN-PVG to precisely to avoid having crews lay over in China). The crew layover would simply be at ICN instead, and they will do an ICN-PVG same day turn.
    UA has scheduled nonstops for now, but I guess they could also try to follow the same path but use NRT instead.

  4. Once a week flights won’t work financially, so I assume this is the starting point for negotiations that may end up at 3-4 flights a week.

    The fact that US airlines aren’t set up to monitor the COVID-19 status of their passengers is immaterial. They should be. Here in the US we’re living in a pollyanna dream world, but China is taking the virus more seriously. I respect that.

  5. China’s bargaining position a week ago was already one weekly flight, so be careful not to declare a ‘victory’ for threats not to allow Chinese airlines to fly to the U.S. It’s what we were already offered.

  6. I really can’t believe that an aviation blogger even can’t tell whether a flight is cargo service or passenger service.

    Yes I am talking about the mentioned sfo-pvg UA route which is said to be on daily service now.

    So instead of getting viral by incorporating your politics here, just be humble and be professional.

  7. How quickly will tests show positive results after infection? Say someone is very recently infected, eg on the way to the airport or a day or two prior. If they are tested at the departure airport and it’s negative, then how does it makes sense to punish the airline?

  8. China uses market-based incentives to teach the world how you prevent a virus from expanding. The US is utterly divided and rioting. Amazing switch in leadership.

  9. Air China has already required passengers on their weekly Moscow – Beijing flight to provide a COVID-19 test report before they are allowed to board the flight at Moscow. Thailand once did that to passenger boarding any flights to Thailand before all international flights being suspended. Guess passengers will need to travel with their recent COVID-19 test result.

    For the haters saying China is being hysterical, just look at how your country is doing the epidemic control. The US didn’t and doesn’t have ANY mandatory quarantine or testing method for citizens coming in from abroad and the UK is about to start implementing the 14 days quarantine, while a bit too late. Your government being incompetent is not China’s fault. Get your acts together before talking s**t about others.

  10. Air China has already required passengers on their weekly Moscow – Beijing flight to offer a COVID-19 test report before they’re allowed to board the flight at Moscow. Thailand once did that to passenger boarding any flights to Thailand earlier than all worldwide flights being suspended. Guess passengers will need to journey with their latest COVID-19 take a look at end result.

  11. @Peter
    Because the Chinese government is really reliable in terms of reporting cases 😉

  12. 1 flight a week thats OK, now we should inform China that each of their carriers will be able to fly 1 flight Only a week to 1 city of their choice

  13. China will punish airlines that bring in COVID-19??????
    China invented the Wuhan Virus. It was made in China.

  14. Typical double standard China. We’ll punish your airlines if you bring Covid into China, but it’s ok if our own airlines bring in someone with covid. Go pound sand, China!

  15. Too many troll responses…

    Which gets me wondering, why is it called trolling?

    Prior to the internet, and per Wikipedia, trolls in Norse / Scandinavian mythology who were always dwelling in isolated rocks, mountains, or caves. Which basically makes it weird that they now they’ve come out from isolation and are all over the internet.

    But then I realized it went to the latter part of how wikipedia describes it – trolls are “… rarely helpful to human beings) 😉

  16. I mean one airline one country one city one weekly flight applies to Chinese airlines as well, its not like this policy only applies to the US airlines. given the current COVID situation in the states, i don’t think any country would want more flight from US. Remember Canadian US boarder is still closed.

  17. Apparently not everyone can finish reading the whole article before making a comment, and not everyone is reaonable enough to stop abusing the word “troll”

  18. Maybe this will get the Big 3 airlines and TSA to stop dragging their feet on temperature checks.

  19. @Donna
    IF China discovered the virus long before they announced it and knowingly let it spread across the world, how none of the “advanced” and “transparent” health departments in rest of the world detected?
    If these most developed countries could not identify/underestimated a new virus, how can they accuse another country?

  20. @Donna

    Are you trying imply that US gov has done an awesome job reporting over 1 million cases, you must be so proud of your country’s work lol

  21. @Lucky

    Seriously, you allow all those hypocritical and racist comments towards People of China origins here. I assume this is a travel blog?

  22. But is it enough ?

    Came down people and have some patience. Things will get back to normal. It wasn’t a nuclear bomb it was a virus.

  23. America stopped flights and China restricted flights for the same reason. Stop being double standard and racist. So disappointing especially for a travel blogger and his supposedly worldly followers

  24. China needs to ban US based airlines. Keep the backward Amerikkkans contained in their shitty country.

  25. China only is caving in because Trump played hard ball. Heaven help us all if sleepy Joe gets into the White House.

  26. The reality is that China has largely controlled the virus now and things are getting back to normal .
    In USA this is not the case and the virus is rife and still spreading . No wonder China want to stop imported cases .
    Of course those of you who are anti China will not like these comments , but it is reality .

  27. Why do so many bash China? The US had its first case prior to Wuhan being closed. So how is it possible that Beijing and Shanghai never had large outbreaks? Mongolia and Vietnam listened to China and have had very few cases. Had the US listened to China it would definitely not be in its current situation.

  28. @Alan, do you think anyone believes that? No, it is because Vietnam did NOT listen to the PRC and their lackeys at the WHO that the Viets had so few cases. NOT trusting the PRC is also the reason why Taiwan, Japan and Singapore had so few cases. There is a plethora of articles all over the internet detailing this.

    @BigG I have seen a building full of PLA operatives flood an internet bulletin board with these anonymous comments so many times that at this point I simply find the comments above to be comical.

  29. @Joseph N
    Here’s an excellent article on Mongolia’s covid response.
    And yes they did listen to China.
    I love how so many want to bash China but not a single person ever can ever provide any evidence to show that Beijing and Shanghai had large outbreaks. Just accept it – the US screwed up big time and those of us Americans living overseas are still going to be screwed by having a worthless passport. Thank you so much US govt (and both parties are to blame)!!!

  30. After all, we need to understand the reason that the virus is spread to the current level throughout the world.
    Sometime in December, the virus was found to make someone sick in Wuhan at the Huanan Seafood Market, which becomes the 2019-nCoV. Then it was known to the world to be similar to SARS and deadly. But people throughout the world do not know its existence outside of Asia. It then spread throughout, and a few cases were confirmed outside China, in Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, et Cetra. it continue to spread into the western world, and then a cruise was hit, Diamond Princess a parked in Japan, with hundreds of cases confirmed in the cruise and those who had ridden the cruise. And later it becomes a global pandemic, given the name COVID-19.
    WHO chairman Tedros had been advising the country do not to block China as a way to track outsourcing coronavirus cases. The WHO had failed to control the spread of coronavirus, which was thought to have only cause 80k cases and thousands of cases, but that number seems extremely false when the cases around the world skyrocketed, with 100k cases in European countries with less than 1/20 of the population in China.
    I do not understand how anyone could still trust China, especially in reporting cases. Being from Hong Kong and had been through SARS in 2003, I know how China had been hiding information that would otherwise be useful from the international community, including the so-called Chinese Hong Kong SAR. China is just not trustworthy.

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