A day after the Department of Transportation said it would block airlines’ passenger flights into the U.S., China moved to allow foreign carriers one flight per week to one city.
The move is presumably welcome by American carriers like Delta Air Lines Inc., which had been effectively barred from restarting service to China and could also see its partner, China Eastern, stopped from flying into the U.S. under the DOT plan.
(Delta, which had planned to resume two flights to Shanghai this month from cities other than Atlanta, did not immediately return a request for comment.)
China on March 12 issued guidelines allowing foreign carriers to resume service based on their existing schedules at that date, but according to a list published by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, all non-Chinese passenger carriers had ceased flights between the two countries by then in response to COVID-19-related travel bans.
The DOT argued Wednesday that by picking the “arbitrary date” China was effectively blocking U.S. carriers’ service and running afoul of the countries’ bilateral aviation agreement.
The DOT’s ban on Chinese airlines’ flights into the U.S. will still go into effect June 16, unless expedited by President Trump, and it’s unclear whether China’s relaxation of its rules will be enough to get the U.S. to reverse course. The DOT did not respond immediately to an emailed request for comment.
Either way, demand between the U.S. and China is in no way booming. China maintains a ban on entry for foreigners, with few exceptions, and the U.S. is continuing to block entry by anyone who has traveled to Brazil, China, Iran, the U.K. or Europe’s Schengen area within the last 14 days.
According to the Wall Street Journal, most of the demand for flights into China in recent weeks has been taken up by Chinese students just now being repatriated from abroad.
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said in a recent earnings call that Delta had been involved in a variety of repatriation flights since the pandemic, transporting some 5,000 people including State Department personnel and citizens of India, as well as serving other locales to which the airline doesn’t usually fly.
Delta has continuously offered cargo service from China to Atlanta via Incheon, South Korea.