The United States and China have reached a deal to double the weekly flight cap between the two countries, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced on Friday night.
Within hours of the news leaking, United Airlines said it was seizing the opportunity to add flights to and from China by resuming flights to Beijing from San Francisco and increasing the number of flights to Shanghai to make it a daily service.
From September 1, 2023, the DOT will allow 18 weekly round-trip scheduled passenger flights between China and the United States, and from October 29, that number will increase to 24 weekly services.
Capacity has been severely curtailed on flights between the US and China since the start of the pandemic in early 2020 when Beijing imposed stringent rules on and sanctions on international airlines in an attempt to prevent COVID-19 cases being imported from abroad.
The United States responded with tit-for-tat sanctions on Chinese carriers resulting in a situation where capacity was reduced to a fraction of pre-pandemic levels.
Even as China loosened its pandemic controls and eventually dropped all travel restrictions earlier this year, the icy diplomatic relationship with the Biden administration over air travel rights has taken a long time to thaw.
The DOT has justified the slow rebuilding of capacity by saying: “The public interest would be best served overall by a balanced and incremental reopening of the U.S.-China air transport market, so as to ensure an orderly normalization of services and the overarching aviation relationship between the United States and China as governed by the Agreement”.
“Our overriding goal is an improved environment wherein the carriers of both parties are able to exercise fully their bilateral rights to maintain a competitive balance and fair and equal opportunity among U.S. and Chinese air carriers,” the DOT continued.
The Biden administration says that the “negative impact” of China’s pandemic-era travel restrictions “continues to call for an incremental return to services in the U.S.-China combination services market”.
United Airlines will add capacity to its San Francisco to Shanghai flights by making it a daily service from October 1, while Beijing flights will resume for the first time since the start of the pandemic in November.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.