Update: The CAAC backtracked quickly, and US airlines can now resume service to China. However, the DOT has also ruled that Chinese airlines will have to reduce service to the US. An agreement was finally reached that will see US airlines resuming 4x weekly flights.
The United States is introducing a new China travel ban, which would spell the end of nonstop flights between the US and mainland China (for now). Unlike the China travel ban instituted in early February, this one isn’t about COVID-19, but rather is about a growing aviation spat between the US and China.
Maybe I’m biased, but in this case I think the US is 100% correct.
US bans Chinese passenger flights as of June 16
As of June 16, 2020, the United States Department of Transportation will order the suspension of all scheduled passenger flights of Chinese airlines to and from the United States. This is specific to airlines in mainland China, so wouldn’t apply to airlines based in Hong Kong or Taiwan.
Currently four Chinese airlines operate scheduled flights between the United States and China — Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, and Xiamen Air. Meanwhile no US airlines operate these flights, though at least Delta and United would like to resume China flights this month.
United wants to resume China flights this month, but can’t get permission
The problem is that China isn’t allowing this, due to what the US considers to be a pretty arbitrary restriction.
What’s going on between the US and China?
Unlike much of the rest of the world, China doesn’t belong to the Open Skies agreement, with greatly liberates the routes that airlines can fly. Instead China relies on bilateral agreements, so all flights between the United States and China are permitted based on that agreement.
The problem is that while Chinese airlines are allowed to fly to the US, China is refusing to grant US airlines that same privilege.
China Southern continues to operate flights to the US
What exactly is going on here, and why is China restricting US airlines?
- US airlines discontinued all flights to mainland China by early February 2020, in light of travel restrictions and the pandemic
- Chinese airlines never completely cut service between the US and China; by mid-February Chinese airlines operated a combined 20 weekly frequencies to the US, while by mid-March Chinese airlines operated a combined 34 weekly frequencies to the US
- On March 26, 2020, China issued new regulations allowing airlines to operate a single weekly flight to a single destination in each country
- China at that point claimed that the maximum service airlines could offer to China was equivalent to the flights that they had as of March 12; in other words, if airlines weren’t flying to China as of March 12, then they wouldn’t be allowed to fly to China at all
- China is using an arbitrary baseline date for these restrictions to argue that US airlines shouldn’t be allowed to provide any service to the country
- The agreement between the US and China is supposed to “achieve equality of opportunity reasonable balance, and mutual benefit,” and that’s clearly not the case with China’s arbitrary restrictions
China Eastern continues to operate flights to the US
The US Department of Transportation is spot on here, in my opinion. China created an arbitrary restriction backdated a couple of weeks that essentially precludes US airlines from offering any service to China, even though Chinese airlines can fly to the US.
One would think that China will take this seriously, though the Chinese government often isn’t a huge fan of negotiating, so we’ll see how this evolves…