The Biden administration said Friday it would suspend 44 flights from the United States to China, operated by Chinese airlines, in retaliation for China’s imposing similar restrictions on US companies in recent weeks.
The Chinese government has canceled flights operated by American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines after passengers on their planes tested positive for the virus after arriving in China. The passengers had tested negative before boarding the plane.
In Friday’s order, the U.S. Department of Transportation described China’s suspensions, which will run until early March, as punitive and unfair.
The Chinese aviation authority canceled the flights using a “circuit breaker” provision intended to allow the country to limit the spread of the virus. Under US policy, airlines that deliver passengers who later test positive for the virus can choose between a two-week suspension of the offending flight or a four-week limit on the number of passengers on that flight. The US companies were never given that choice and were not given the four-week notice period promised under Chinese policy, the transport ministry said.
“The Chinese government is individually authorizing each prospective traveler to travel to China prior to their departure from the United States, after verifying pre-departure test results and other required documentation,” Carol A. Petsonk, a senior aviation officer in the department, wrote in the order. “U.S. airlines, which follow all relevant Chinese regulations regarding pre-departure and in-flight protocols, should not be penalized if passengers test positive for Covid-19 after arrival.”
The order suspends 44 flights from the United States to China, scheduled from January 30 to March 29. The affected flights are operated by Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines. Most would leave from Los Angeles, the others from New York. France and Germany have taken similar steps in response to China’s use of the circuit breaker policy.
Early in the pandemic, Chinese officials banned US airlines from operating passenger flights to their country, prompting the Trump administration to retaliate. The dispute eventually settled and more than a year ago, limited flights between the countries resumed.
Delta and United did not immediately respond to requests for comment. American granted a reprieve to Airlines for America, a trade group, which said in a statement it “supports actions taken by the Department of Transportation to ensure fair treatment of American airlines in the Chinese market.” The Civil Aviation Administration of China, the country’s aviation authority, was not immediately available for comment.