Ever since the pandemic began, the United States and China have been having difficulties to agree on Covid flight policies.
China has strict travel restrictions and has often cancelled flights by US carriers if too many tested positive. In a “one-for-one response”, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) is simply cancelling the same number of flights from Chinese carriers in return.
China has had zero tolerance Covid policies since the beginning of the pandemic, only easing some travel restrictions. At the beginning of the month, the Civil Aviation Authority of China has made it clear that if at least 4% of the passengers on a flight are positive for Covid-19 after arrival, one flight by the airline operating that flight would be cancelled. If the percentage rises to 8%, two flights get cancelled. This update actually eases the restrictions which previously foresaw flights from airlines with positive passengers to be suspended for two weeks or limit their capacity to 40%.
These policies resulted in 44 flights to be suspended by January and another 26 since. The cancellations affected American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. In response, the USDOT applying the same restrictions, cancelling September flights operated by Xiamen, Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines.
Last year, the DOT applied the same “one-for-one response” by limiting passenger capacity to just 40% for two weeks on flights operated by Chinese carriers after China had applied the same restrictions of United Airlines flights.
“China has unilaterally imposed frequency and capacity restrictions that are inconsistent with the terms of the US-China Air Transport Agreement”, the DOT said, adding that China is unfairly punishing airlines which are given “undue culpability”. The body argues that carries should not be held accountable when passengers test negative before departing and “only test positive for Covid-19 after their arrival in China.”
“Extremely irresponsible” says Chinese Embassy in Washington
The Chinese Embassy in Washington has called US’ retaliation “extremely irresponsible” and “groundless”. The embassy sustains that the measures have always been transparent and consistent with the bilateral air transport agreements. The delegation also reminded that the measures are fair and not targeted at the US, as they apply to all flights, be them foreign or Chinese.