Photo: Clément Alloing

MIAMI – Just a day after the DOT threatened to ban Chinese airlines from flying to the US, the CAAC let up and granted permission for US carriers to resume limited service to China. The DOT followed suit and is allowing four weekly round trips between China and the US.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began to sweep its way across the map, travel limitations started to pop up everywhere. Out of all the restrictions, travel to China, where the virus originated, was deemed nearly entirely off-limits.

As the virus began to become contained, airlines from both China and the United States had their eyes on resuming service. However, the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) and the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) got into a tussle over who would be allowed to fly where.

PHOTO: Tomas Del Coro

The Chinese – American Standoff


The quarrel between the two nations began when two of the United States’ largest carriers, Delta Air Lines (DL) and United Airlines (UA), requested to resume service to mainland China this month, with the last of the big three, American Airlines (AA) eyeing a return in the fall.

The CAAC did not initially respond to these requests.

The DOT retaliated on June 3, threatening to ban all passenger travel on Chinese airlines to the US if the CAAC did not allow re-entry to American carriers, citing the 1980 Civil Air Transport Agreement.

This agreement between the US and China states that for every flight operated between the two countries on a Chinese airline, an American airline is entitled to the same number of flights.

The relationship between the United States and China has been a tense one for some time now, with the newer issues surrounding the coronavirus, as well as pre-existing tensions over human rights and trade.

Some feared the air travel spat could cause the relationship to reach a breaking point.

PHOTO: jplphoto

DOT statement regarding CAAC’s actions


The DOT stated the following it is order:

“Our overriding goal is not the perpetuation of this situation, but rather an improved environment wherein the carriers of both parties will be able to exercise fully their bilateral rights.”

“Only then will the Department’s actions to maintain a competitive balance and fair and equal opportunity among U.S. and Chinese air carriers in the scheduled passenger service marketplace no longer be necessary.”

“The most recent CAAC actions, while a step in the right direction, have not created that environment. However, should the CAAC adjust its policies to bring about the necessary improved situation for U.S. carriers, the Department is fully prepared to once again revisit the action.”

Photo: Brandon Farris

An ideal agreement?


The agreement by the CAAC to grant US airlines permission to fly to China and the DOT to allow four weekly round trips between the Asian country and the US is, still, not ideal, as the latter trips must be divided between all airlines based in China.

Pre-COVID-19, airlines from both countries operated roughly 300 round trips across the pacific.

Ideally, the CAAC and the DOT will continue to work with one another to reach agreements that will allow for the reinstatement of flights back to the frequency observed before countless planes around the world were relegated to the parking lot.