The United States and China reached a compromise (妥协) on air service, with each nation now permitted to operate four flights per week between the world’s two largest economies. But is the new US – China flight compromise just a bandage on a festering wound?
Recapping The US – China Air Service Diplomatic Roller Coaster
The last two weeks have been a roller coaster ride, with the two superpowers fighting a pseudo proxy war, using their airlines as pawns. You can read the full background here, but I’ll sum it up below.
U.S. carriers suspended China service in winter, over falling demand and COVID-19 concerns. With the virus thought to be under control in China, U.S. carriers want to resume service, even if U.S. citizens are still not allowed in the country.
But China declared that only carriers operating on March 12, 2020 could operate between the two nations. Conveniently, only Chinese airlines were operating on that date. Labelled an arbitrary move that violated the bilateral air service agreement between the two nations, the U.S. blocked all Chinese airlines from serving the United States. The ban was due to go into effect today (June 16, 2020).
The ban prompted China to quickly reverse course. Suddenly, U.S. carriers each operate one flight per week, the same as Chinese carriers. Again, the U.S. pushed back, stating that such limits did not capture the spirit of the bilateral deal and still created an uneven playing field since more Chinese carriers served the U.S. than U.S. carriers serving China.
The Compromise: Four Flights Per Week Each For US and China + Temperature Checks Before Travel
After much work behind-the-scenes, both countries announced a face-saving move. Late yesterday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the U.S. and China will each allow four flights per week between the two countries.
This is a first step: the U.S. hopes to increase the number of flights between the two nations soon:
“As the Chinese government allows more flights by U.S. carriers, we will reciprocate.”
A compromise was also reached on testing. China had proposed a carrot and stick approach, where airlines would be rewarded (by being allowed more air service) if no passengers arrived with COVID-19 while airlines would be penalized (flight privileges suspended) if five or more passenger arrived with the virus. (details here)
Reuters reports that under the compromise agreement, temperature checks will be performed travel. This clarification has not been officially published, but it appears an airline will not be penalized for an asymptotic passenger who showed no signs of illness pre-flight.
Delta To Start Service To Shanghai Next Week…United Will Soon Follow
Delta Air Lines will start twice-weekly service between Seattle and Shanghai next week. Then in July, Delta will shift to one flight from Seattle and one flight from Detroit. All flights will go via Seoul so that no Delta crews remain overnight in China.
United Airlines plans to resume service to China next month, but not before then.
As a consumer and political observer, I am happy that China and the United States were able to find an amicable solution rather than a silly ban on service that would hurt both nations. Importantly, hopefully the virus will be contained so that service between China and the USA can again blossom and flourish.