US suspends 44 US flights from Chinese airlines after China’s action

A masked passenger amid the health threat of the novel coronavirus arrives on January 24, 2020 on a direct flight from China at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois, US. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski/File Photo

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 21 (Reuters) – The U.S. government said Friday it would suspend 44 Chinese flights from the United States by four Chinese carriers in response to the Chinese government’s decision to suspend some U.S. airlines’ flights amid concerns over COVID -19.

The suspensions will begin on January 30 with Xiamen Airlines’ scheduled flight from Los Angeles to Xiamen and will last until March 29, the transportation ministry said.

The decision will suspend some flights operated by Xiamen, Air China (601111.SS), China Southern Airlines (600029.SS) and China Eastern Airlines (600115.SS).

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Since December 31, Chinese authorities have suspended 20 United Airlines, 10 American Airlines (AAL.O) and 14 Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) flights after some passengers tested positive for COVID-19. On Tuesday, the transportation ministry said the Chinese government had announced new cancellations of US flights.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said on Friday that the policy for international passenger flights entering China “has been applied equally to Chinese and foreign airlines in a fair, open and transparent manner.”

He called the US action “highly unreasonable” and added: “We urge the US to stop disrupting and restricting normal passenger flights” by Chinese airlines.

Airlines for America, a trade group representing the three US airlines affected along with others by China’s move, said it supported Washington’s move “to ensure fair treatment of US airlines in the Chinese market”.

The transport ministry said France and Germany have taken similar measures against China’s COVID-19 measures. It said China’s suspension of the 44 flights “is against the public interest and justifies proportionate corrective action”. It added that China’s “unilateral actions against the said US carriers are in conflict” with a bilateral agreement.

China has also suspended numerous US flights operated by Chinese airlines after passengers later tested positive.

The department said it was willing to reconsider its action if China revises its “policy to bring about the necessary improved situation for US airlines”. It warned that if China cancels more flights, “we reserve the right to take additional measures”.

China has nearly closed its borders to travelers, reducing the total number of international flights to just 200 a week, or 2% of pre-pandemic levels, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in September.

The number of U.S. flights being canceled has soared since December as infections caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus hit record highs in the United States.

Beijing and Washington have been sparring over air services since the start of the pandemic. In August, the US transportation department capped four Chinese airlines’ flights to 40% passenger capacity for four weeks after Beijing imposed identical limits on four United Airlines flights.

Before the recent cancellations, three US carriers and four Chinese carriers operated about 20 flights per week between countries, well below the figure of more than 100 per week before the pandemic.

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Reporting by David Shepardson; adaptation by Jonathan Oatis, Mark Porter and David Gregorio

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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