June 3, 2020.   Back At You.

Air China 747 at Kennedy Airport.    Author’s photo.

Fallout from COVID has touched off a political spat between the United States and China over the resumption of commercial airline service. Effective June 16th, Chinese airlines will be blocked from serving any U.S. city.

This comes in response to China’s refusal to allow United Airlines and Delta Air Lines to restart flights into Beijing and Shanghai, intended to begin on June 1st. The reciprocal ban may take effect sooner than June 16th if the Trump administration chooses.

China says its decision was made to prevent COVID-infected travelers from entering China from U.S. cities. Yet its own carriers have been operating to and from those same destinations, including New York and Los Angeles, for the past several weeks.

Of the U.S. majors, United has the largest presence in China by far, followed by Delta and American. United also flies multiple routes into Hong Kong, which is not subject to the bans.

American carriers affected: United, American, Delta.

Chinese carriers affected: Air China, China Eastern, China Southern, Hainan Airlines, Xiamen Air, Sichuan Airlines.

Not affected: Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong), China Airlines (Taiwan).

It is unclear if or how cargo service will be impacted. U.S. airlines have been flying regular cargo charters into China, generating badly needed revenue.

Who knows how long this drama will play on. How strange it is, in the meantime, for there to be no scheduled air service between the United States and China. Then again, what isn’t strange these days? In normal times the cessation of flights between the two most important countries in the world would be a huge story unto itself. Today it’s just a footnote.

UPDATE: Two days after this story ran, China backed down and announced it would allow American carriers to once again serve Chinese cities. Flights to Beijing and Shanghai should resume shortly.


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