Business Treaveler logo

Travel news, reviews and intel for high-flyers

Chinese Airlines Receive Green Light for Increased U.S. Flights

The Biden Administration has approved an increase in weekly flights for Chinese airlines to the U.S. in response to calls from Chinese officials for greater reciprocity

by Fergus Cole

May 5, 2023

Photo: Air China, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Courtesy of Andrew Dawes / Unsplash

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) has confirmed that Chinese airlines can now operate up to 12 flights per week to the U.S., marking a slight thawing in U.S.-China relations.

In recent years, the relationship between the two countries has become increasingly hostile, with various trade disputes and diplomatic issues causing tension. However, this new ruling means that Chinese carriers can now increase their roundtrip flights from eight to twelve per week, in line with the number of weekly flights that U.S. airlines are permitted to operate to China by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). The move follows calls for reciprocation from officials in Beijing.

Photo: China Eastern, Boeing 777-300ER. Courtesy of John McArthur / Unsplash

However, flight capacity between the U.S. and China remains significantly below pre-pandemic levels, when more than 150 round trips were permitted per week for carriers on both sides of the Pacific.

Since 2020, the number of flights between the two countries has reduced drastically, partly due to strict COVID-19 restrictions. While China has recently reopened its borders to most foreign travelers, the U.S. will remove its last remaining restrictions next week.

However, the pandemic has not been the only contention between Chinese and U.S. authorities in recent times, with U.S. carriers complaining that their Chinese counterparts have a significant competitive advantage by being allowed to fly over Russian airspace.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, U.S. carriers have had to take significantly longer routes around Russia to reach destinations in Asia, which has resulted in substantially higher operating costs for them compared to Chinese airlines, which face no such restrictions.

Photo: China Airlines, Airbus A350-900. Courtesy of Lukas Souza

Steve Saxon, a partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Company, told CNN that although demand for travel between the U.S. and China is slowly rebounding, driven by people visiting friends and family along with business and corporate travelers, “supply is much lower than demand between [the] U.S. and China currently.”

The DOT’s decision will be of significant interest to a number of airlines in both countries, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines, all of which operate passenger services between the U.S. and China.

“We note that, although the CAAC’s December 28 announcement lifted certain COVID-related restrictions it had imposed in the U.S.-China market, those restrictions had, and continue to have, a devastating effect on the U.S.-China air transport market,” USDOT stated in its ruling.

Photo: China Southern, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Courtesy of Scarbor Siu / Unsplash

“For the past three years, CAAC has unilaterally abridged the rights of U.S. carriers under the Agreement, and the Chinese Government has imposed other travel-related requirements that have severely disrupted the market and depressed demand.

“While the removal of restrictions by CAAC is a long-awaited positive step, in light of the long-term harm to the market and the other factors noted above, we believe that the public interest is best served by a balanced and incremental reopening to ensure an orderly normalization of the U.S.-China air transport market and the overarching aviation relationship as governed by the Agreement.”

The Department of Transportation stated that it will keep an eye on the situation and may adjust its regulations if it determines that U.S. airlines are being unfairly disadvantaged compared to Chinese airlines.