China backed down from its de facto ban on U.S. airlines, but the revised policy has still left U.S. airlines unsatisfied, which call the China flight restrictions impractical.
As I wrote about on Wednesday, China restricted air service between the United States and China to one flight per week per carrier that was operating on March 12, 2020. That date restriction was significant because by March, U.S. carriers had suspended all service to Mainland China due to COVID-19 and related travel restrictions. Now Delta and United wish to resume flights to China but were effectively barred from doing so.
After informal talks failed, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) officially blocked all Chinese airlines from serving the United States effective June 16, 2020. Specifically, the U.S. objected to the “arbitrary” date of March 12th the Chinese chose to limit Mainland service. It held that the new policy violated the 1980 bilateral air service agreement between the two nations, which holds:
“Each Party shall take all appropriate action to ensure that there exist fair and equal rights for the designated airlines of both Parties to operate the agreed services on the specified routes so as to achieve equality of opportunity, reasonable balance and mutual benefit.”
In response to the U.S. DOT order, China backed down and will now allow U.S. airlines to serve China nonstop. But, airlines will still be restricted to only one flight per week, a restriction that applies equally to U.S. and Chinese carriers.
Furthermore, China has taken a carrot and stick approach to the spread of COVID-19 with the resumption of U.S. and other foreign flights:
- If no passengers on a route test positive for COVID-19 for three weeks (three flights), the airline can double service to two flights per week
- If five passengers on a single flight test positive, service will be suspended for a week
- If 10 passengers on a single flight test positive, the route will be suspended for four weeks
U.S. Airlines Object To China Air Service Compromise, 1x-Weekly Restrictions
Airlines for America, the lobbying group representing U.S. airlines, points out the impracticality of the 1x weekly flight limit:
“While the Chinese response to the Department of Transportation is a step toward parity for U.S. carriers, more is needed to achieve the goals of the agreement.”
U.S. airlines see two problems with the service restrictions. First, one flight per week makes crew scheduling quite impractical. Airlines will be left with three choices, none of which encourage efficiency:
- A second crew will need to deadhead (fly as passengers) on every outbound flight
- The aircraft will need to sit overnight in China
- Crews will have to wait for a week in China before returning, which is difficult due to quarantine restrictions
Second, U.S. carriers assert that one flight per week makes the transport of cargo and passengers unreliable and ineffective.
Talks between China and the U.S. are ongoing.
China did the right thing in removing its arbitrary flight restriction. Its limit of one flight per week, whether practical or not, is evenly applied and well within its purview. Negotiations now shift not to what the 1980 agreement requires, but to issues of practicality.
> Read More: Is Chinese Airline Ban From United States A Bluff?