© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A passenger wearing a mask arrives at Chicago O’Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., on a nonstop flight from China, amid the health threat of the novel coronavirus, on January 24, 2020.REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski/File photo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. government said on Friday it would suspend 44 flights by four Chinese airlines from the United States to China, in response to the Chinese government’s decision to suspend some U.S. airline flights over COVID-19 concerns.
The suspension will begin on January 30, and Xiamen Airlines’ Los Angeles-Xiamen flights will be suspended until March 29, the Ministry of Transportation said.
The decision will cut some flights at Xiamen, Air China (OTC: ), China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines (NYSE: ).
Since Dec. 31, Chinese authorities have suspended 20 United Airlines, 10 American Airlines (Nasdaq: ) and 14 Delta Air Lines (NYSE: Delta Air Lines) after some passengers tested positive for COVID-19. 🙂 flights. Just Tuesday, the Ministry of Transportation said the Chinese government had announced the cancellation of new U.S. flights.
Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said on Friday that the policy for international passenger flights entering China “applies equally to Chinese and foreign airlines in a fair, open and transparent manner.”
He called the U.S. move “very unreasonable” and added that “we urge the U.S. side to stop disrupting and restricting the normal passenger flights of Chinese airlines.”
American Airlines, a trade group representing the three U.S. airlines affected by China’s move, said it supported Washington’s actions to “ensure that American airlines are treated fairly in the Chinese market.”
France and Germany have taken similar actions over China’s COVID-19 actions, the ministry said. It said China’s suspension of the 44 flights “is not in the public interest and requires corresponding remedial measures”. It added that China’s “unilateral action against the named U.S. aircraft carrier is not in line with” bilateral agreements.
China also suspended many U.S. flights by Chinese airlines after passengers later tested positive.
The department said it was ready to revisit its actions if China revised its “policy to bring about the necessary improvements for U.S. airlines.” It warned that if China cancels more flights, “we reserve the right to take additional action.”
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in September that China had all but closed its borders to travelers, reducing the total number of international flights to just 200 a week, or 2 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
The number of cancelled flights in the U.S. has surged since December as infections caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus soared to record highs in the U.S.
Beijing and Washington have sparred over air services since the pandemic began. In August, after Beijing imposed the same restrictions on four United Airlines flights, the U.S. Department of Transportation restricted four flights from Chinese airlines to 40% capacity for four weeks.
Before the recent cancellations, three U.S. airlines and four Chinese airlines operated about 20 weekly flights between the two countries, well below the pre-pandemic figure of more than 100 weekly flights.
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