For anyone hoping for some semblance of a re-start of a meaningful amount of air traffic between the United States and China, the hope was dashed last week when the Administration of President Donald Trump ordered the suspension of flights from China to the United States.
Relations between the governments of the two countries had already been frayed, as evidenced by the up-and-down nature of a “trade war” and occasional warnings to Chinese travelers about the safety of visiting the U.S., but discussions between major U.S. air carriers and the Chinese government had been inching along and, according to some accounts, advance sales on an expected limited number of flights between the two countries were reportedly taking place.
What brought a screeching halt to this limited progress was the decision by China to supersede laws in place for the semi-autonomous “Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China” (commonly referred to as the Hong Kong Government) with the imposition of mainland authority.
In a fairly quick response, the Trump Administration issued its order, which takes effect June 16.
Prior to the new ban, there had already been a conflict between the U.S. and China over air travel in the wake of the outbreak earlier this year of the coronavirus, which triggered a global pandemic and a near global shutdown of air traffic. President Trump imposed restrictions on travel from China on Jan. 31 as the coronavirus spread. The move came after Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and other major carriers suspended service.
Since the end of March, China has permitted an extremely limited number of flights—just one flight per week per airline on one route to a country. Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, and Hainan Airlines have been operating limited flights to the U.S. since the pandemic. Delta and United, however, had yet to be included among the limited number of airlines operating such flights.
In announcing the ban that goes into effect on June 16, the U.S. Department of Transportation included a statement that specifically cites the obstacles faced by Delta and United, declaring that “The Chinese government’s failure to approve the requests (to resume China flights) is a violation of our Air Transport Agreement.”
As for the position of the airlines, Leslie Scott, a United spokesperson, said in a politely worded statement, “We look forward to resuming passenger service between the United States and China when the regulatory environment allows us to do so.”