US airlines say China has blocked more than a dozen recent and future flights from entering the country, which is tightening its already strict COVID-19 travel restrictions.
According to industry officials, China ordered cancellations after some passengers tested positive for COVID-19 on flights to China in late December.
American Airlines said Tuesday that it has canceled six flights from Dallas-Fort Worth to Shanghai between late January and early February. United Airlines said it was forced to cancel six flights from San Francisco to Shanghai later this month. Delta Air Lines said it canceled one flight last week and another to Shanghai this Friday.
Airlines for America, which represents the largest US passenger and freight carrier, said it was discussing the matter with US and Chinese government officials to find ways to reduce the impact on passengers.
The Biden administration had no immediate comment.
The suspension of flights is the latest development in a dispute between the two countries over international flights and rules designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
China is easing travel restrictions following recent outbreaks of COVID-19 as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics in early February. China limits capacity on inbound flights – currently to 75% – and requires passengers to be tested before departure and after arriving in the country.
If passengers test positive, the airline carrying them may be forced to cancel two to four flights depending on the number of positive cases.
Last month, Delta said new requirements for cleaning planes between flights forced a plane bound for Shanghai to return to Seattle., The airline said the new rules extended the time that the planes would be required to land in Shanghai, and were not workable. The Chinese consulate in San Francisco protested Delta’s decision.
In 2020, the Trump Administration Backed Out by a Threat United and Delta to block four Chinese airlines that were shut down earlier in the pandemic after China agreed to resume limited operations.
Last August, the US Department of Transportation limited the number of passengers on flights of four Chinese airlines to the US after China imposed similar limits on United Airlines. The US said China is placing an undue burden on US airlines for passengers who test positive after arriving in China.
Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.