U.S. scraps plans to ban Chinese airlines after Beijing permits foreign carriers, will limit flights to two a week

Key Points
  • The U.S. is reversing a decision to prohibit Chinese passenger airlines outright but will limit their flights.
  • The Trump administration's planned ban was in retaliation for Chinese officials' failure to approve U.S. airlines' plans to resume service there.
  • Delta and United are eager to restart service to China.
Air China staff wear face masks to protect against the spread of the Coronavirus as they check in passengers on an Air China flight to Beijing, at Los Angeles International Airport, California, on February 2, 2020.
Mark Ralston | Getty Images

The Trump administration on Friday scrapped a plan to ban Chinese passenger airlines from flying to the U.S. after Beijing said foreign airlines can fly to China.

The new order, however, limits Chinese carriers to two weekly flights to the U.S. — half the number that Chinese officials allow that country's airlines to fly to the U.S.

The Department of Transportation said the new measure, which comes amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and China, was needed "to restore a competitive balance and fair and equal opportunity among U.S. and Chinese air carriers in the scheduled passenger service marketplace."

Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have been eager to resume China service, which they suspended earlier this year after the coronavirus outbreak drove down demand. But the airlines hadn't received the required Chinese government approvals to restart service there at the start of the week.

In retaliation, the Trump administration said Wednesday that it would block Chinese passenger carriers from flying to the U.S., starting mid-June. Several hours later, Chinese officials said they would allow foreign airlines to operate once weekly flights.

Despite the looser restrictions, the logistical challenges for crews as well as additional flight attendant duties like passenger temperature checks, make a resumption of service, particularly for a once weekly flight, a tough sell for the U.S. airlines, according to people familiar with their thinking. 

"We support and appreciate continued U.S. government efforts to ensure fairness and access to China," a Delta spokeswoman said in a statement. A United spokeswoman said the company is reviewing the Department of Transportation's order.

A spokesman for the DOT didn't comment beyond Friday's order reversal.

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