The Department of Transportation has suspended 44 Chinese airline flights in retaliation for similar measures that have been taken in recent weeks against U.S. airlines by the Chinese government.
The order, filed by the department on Friday, forbids the departure of nine flights that had been scheduled through March from Los Angeles by Air China. It also forbids 16 scheduled departures through March from New York-JFK by China Eastern, six scheduled departures through March from Los Angeles by China Southern and 13 scheduled departures through March from Los Angeles by Xiamen Airlines.
Out of the suspensions, just one is in January, with the remaining 43 in February and March. They amount to nearly half of the service that had been scheduled out of the U.S. by Chinese carriers, excluding Hong Kong carriers, during those months.
Chinese airlines are now slated to operate a total of 49 flights from the U.S in February and March, an analysis of Cirium flight schedule shows, with 43 of those operations being China Eastern's JFK-Shanghai service. The other five flights will depart from Los Angeles.
Suspensions over Covid-19 cases
This latest move by the DOT comes on the heels of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) having forbidden a combined 44 flights to the Chinese mainland by American, Delta and United through March 9 since Jan. 7. The CAAC imposed those suspensions as penalties against the carriers for transporting passengers who tested positive for Covid-19 in the week after their arrival in China. The DOT said such penalties, known as "circuit breaker" measures, violate the air transport agreement between the U.S. and China.
Per rules set by China, U.S. airlines are verifying that passengers present the required proof of a negative Covid-19 test before boarding flights for China, the DOT noted.
"U.S. carriers, who are following all relevant Chinese regulations with respect to pre-departure and in-flight protocols, should not be penalized if passengers, post-arrival, later test positive for Covid-19," the department said.
Friday's action by the DOT is the latest escalation in a dispute between the U.S and China over air service that began after the CAAC banned service by U.S. airlines early in the pandemic.
The ban was lifted in June 2020 after the DOT said it would impose a similar ban against Chinese carriers.