U.S. to Halt Chinese Airlines’ Flight Access as Relations Fray

Alan Levin and Ryan Beene

The Trump administration on Wednesday issued an order suspending passenger flights from China-based airlines, saying it was retaliation for Beijing barring American carriers from re-entering that market, in a continued escalation of tensions between the two nations.

The order goes into effect June 16 but President Donald Trump can act sooner if he so chooses, the Department of Transportation said in a statement.

The move is the latest in an escalation of tensions between the U.S. and China, which has included disputes over trade, the coronavirus pandemic and the treatment of Hong Kong. On Friday, Trump said that the U.S. would “begin the process” of eliminating the policy exemptions that allow America to treat Hong Kong differently than the mainland. China’s leaders recently moved to impose sweeping new national security legislation on the Asian financial hub.

Beijing has prevented U.S. carriers from expanding service there while four of its airlines have maintained flights to and from markets here this year as Covid-19 erupted, according to the statement. U.S. airlines had asked to resume service on June 1.

“The Chinese government’s failure to approve their requests is a violation of our Air Transport Agreement,” the DOT said in an emailed statement.

The order allows Chinese carriers to operate one flight to the U.S. for each flight that nation grants to American carriers, the agency said.

The department in late May said China had violated a bilateral agreement allowing airline service between the two countries by failing to respond to requests by Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. The department accused China of unfairly blocking the carriers’ attempts to resume service in that country.

The trade group representing large U.S. carriers, Airlines for America, didn’t immediately comment on the action. China’s embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.