According to US airlines, China has barred more than a dozen flights from entering the country, reinforcing already harsh COVID-19 travel restrictions. Industry officials claim that China started the flight cancellations after some passengers tested positive for COVID-19 on planes that arrived in China in late December.
According to American Airlines, around six American Airlines flights from Dallas-Fort Worth to Shanghai have been cancelled for late January and early February. Another US airline, United Airlines, claims that nearly six flights from San Francisco to Shanghai will be cancelled later this month. Delta Airlines has announced the cancellation of two flights to Shanghai, one last week and the other this Friday.
Airlines for America, an American trade association and lobbying group based in Washington, representing major North American airlines, said that it was discussing the issue of massive flights cancellations with the US and Chinese officials to see what can be done to minimise the impact on travellers.
US-China flight cancellations result in a major dispute between countries
The issue of US-China flight cancellations has become a significant row in a long-running conflict between the two countries and norms aimed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Following recent outbreaks of COVID-19, China has tightened travel restrictions. The country is preparing to host the Winter Olympics in early February. Inbound flights in China are limited in capacity (now at 75%), and passengers must be tested both before and after arrival.
Depending on the number of COVID-19 positive instances, the airline that carried them may be obliged to cancel two to four flights.
Delta announced last month that stricter cleaning regulations for planes between flights forced a plane heading for Shanghai to return to Seattle. The airline said that the new rules would cause planes to spend more time on the ground in Shanghai and that such arrangements are unworkable.
After China allowed United and Delta airlines to restart limited operations stopped earlier in the outbreak, the US administration backed down from a threat to prohibit four Chinese airlines in 2020.
After China put similar restrictions on United Airlines, the US Transportation Department reduced the number of passengers on four Chinese airlines' flights to the US in August. The United States claimed that China imposed an undue burden on American airlines for passengers who tested positive after arriving in China.