The U.S. Transportation Department said Friday it would suspend 44 China-bound flights from the United States by four Chinese carriers in response to the Chinese government's decision to suspend some U.S. carrier flights over COVID-19 concerns.
The Biden administration action came after Chinese authorities suspended 20 United Airlines, 10 American Airlines and 14 Delta Air Lines flights since Dec. 31 after some passengers tested positive for COVID-19. The Transportation Department said as recently as Tuesday that the Chinese government had canceled U.S. flights.
The suspensions will begin on Jan. 30 with Xiamen Airlines’ scheduled Los Angeles-to-Xiamen flight and run through March 29.
The decision will cut some flights by Xiamen, Air China, China Southern Airlines, and China Eastern Airlines. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately comment.
The department said France and Germany have taken similar action against China’s COVID-19 actions.
The Transportation Department said China's suspension of the 44 flights "are adverse to the public interest and warrant proportionate remedial action." It added that China's "unilateral actions against the named U.S. carriers are inconsistent" with a China-U.S. bilateral agreement.
China has also suspended U.S. flights by Chinese carriers after passengers later tested positive.
The department said that if China revised its "policies to bring about the necessary improved situation for U.S. carriers, the Department is fully prepared to once again revisit the action." But it also warned that if China cancels more flights, "we reserve the right to take additional action."
China has all but shut its borders to travelers, cutting total international flights to just 200 a week, or 2% of pre-pandemic levels, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in September.
The number of U.S. flights being scrapped has surged since December, as infections caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus soared to record highs in the United States.
Beijing and Washington have sparred over air services since the start of the pandemic. In August, the U.S. Transportation Department limited four flights from Chinese carriers to 40% passenger capacity for four weeks after Beijing imposed identical limits on four United Airlines flights.
Before the recent cancellations, three U.S. airlines and four Chinese carriers were operating about 20 flights a week between the countries, well below the figure of more than 100 per week before the pandemic.
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