On Friday, the US government said it would suspend 44 flights by four Chinese carriers to China from the US in response to the Chinese government’s decision to suspend some US carrier flights due to COVID-19 concerns.
The flight suspension will begin on January 30 with a scheduled Xiamen Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Xiamen and will last until March 29, the Department of Transportation said.
This decision will result in the reduction of some flights by Xiamen, Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines.
Since Dec. 31, Chinese authorities have suspended 20 United Airlines, 10 American Airlines and 14 Delta Air Lines flights after some passengers tested positive for COVID-19.
As recently as Tuesday, the Department of Transportation said the Chinese government had announced the cancellation of new flights to the US.
Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said on Friday that the policy on international passenger flights arriving in China is “applied equally to Chinese and foreign airlines in a fair, open and transparent manner.”
He called the US actions “grossly unfounded” and added: “We call on the American side to stop disrupting and restricting normal passenger flights” of Chinese airlines.
The Airlines for America trade group, which represents the three US carriers affected by China, among others, said it supported Washington’s actions “to ensure that US airlines are treated fairly in the Chinese market.”
The Ministry of Transport said France and Germany have taken similar measures against China’s handling of COVID-19. It said China’s suspension of flights “is against the public interest and requires proportionate remedial action.” He added that “China’s unilateral actions against the named US carriers are incompatible” with the bilateral agreement.
China also suspended numerous Chinese carrier flights to the US after passengers later tested positive.
The department said it was ready to reconsider its actions if China reconsiders its “policies to achieve the necessary improvement for US carriers.” He warned that if China canceled more flights, “we reserve the right to take additional measures.”
China has all but closed its borders to travelers, reducing the total number of international flights to 200 per week, or 2% of pre-pandemic levels, the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) said in September.
The number of canceled flights to the US has risen sharply since December, as the number of infections caused by the highly contagious micron variant of the coronavirus reached an all-time high in the United States.
Beijing and Washington have been arguing over air travel since the start of the pandemic. In August, the US Department of Transportation limited four Chinese carrier flights to 40% capacity for four weeks after Beijing imposed similar restrictions on four United Airlines flights.
Until recent cancellations, three U.S. airlines and four Chinese carriers operated about 20 flights a week between countries, well below the pre-pandemic over 100 flights a week.