Trump Administration to Block Chinese Airlines From Flying to the U.S.

The Trump administration said on Wednesday that it would block Chinese passenger airlines from flying into or out of the United States starting on June 16 in retaliation for a similar ban by the Chinese government on American companies, further escalating tensions between the world’s two biggest economies.

Relations between the countries have deteriorated sharply in recent weeks as officials scuffled over the origin of the pandemic and China’s move to tighten its authority over Hong Kong, a semiautonomous city. With the election just five months away, President Trump and his campaign have taken a much tougher stand against China, blaming its government for allowing coronavirus to turn into a pandemic and wreck the American economy.

The aviation dispute threatens to further chill economic relations and disrupt business ties between the United States and China. Flights between the countries were already sharply curtailed by the pandemic and Chinese restrictions on foreign airlines that effectively halted trips by United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, the major U.S. carriers that go there.

China’s aviation regulators said on March 26 that they would limit foreign carriers to one flight per week based on schedules that were in place earlier that month. But those three airlines had already stopped service to the country by then because of the coronavirus. Chinese airlines continued to fly to American cities.

The Chinese restrictions became a problem only in recent weeks, as Delta and United sought to resume flights to China in June. Both carriers appealed to the Civil Aviation Authority of China, but did not receive a response. U.S. Transportation Department officials also pressed Chinese officials to change their position during a call on May 14, arguing that China was in violation of a 40-year-old agreement that governs flights between the two countries and calls for rules that “equally apply to all domestic and foreign carriers” in both countries.

China’s aviation authority told American officials that it was considering amending its rule, but it has not said “definitively” when that might happen, the Transportation Department said in the filing on Wednesday announcing its decision to suspend flights. “In light of these facts, which present a situation in which the Chinese aviation authorities have authorized no U.S. carrier scheduled passenger operations between the United States and China, we conclude that these circumstances require the department’s action to restore a competitive balance.”

Delta said in a statement that it still hoped to restart flights to China as soon as next week, pending approval, and that the airline appreciated the federal government’s intervention. United said it would fly to China “when the regulatory environment allows us to do so.”

The dispute comes as the Trump administration introduces several new restrictions on companies doing business with China, citing human rights and security considerations.

In mid-May, the Trump administration expanded restrictions on Huawei, the Chinese telecom firm, and blocked a U.S. government pension fund from investing in China. On May 22, it added more than 30 Chinese companies and institutions to a blacklist that restricts their access to American technology.

Last Friday, Mr. Trump also said that he would end some aspects of the American government’s special relationship with Hong Kong, which is exempt from the new aviation order, and that his administration would place sanctions on officials responsible for Beijing’s rollback of liberties in the territory.

“The Chinese government has continually violated its promises to us and so many other nations,” the president said at the time. “The world is now suffering as a result of the malfeasance of the Chinese government.”

Chinese officials have tried to walk a narrow line between maintaining the country’s own tough stance on the Trump administration and preserving its economic relationship with the United States. The Chinese government has threatened to respond with its own measures, including placing U.S. companies on an “unreliable entity list” that could restrict their activities in China.

As ground zero of the pandemic, China was the first country to see aviation grind to a halt this year. In January, American and Chinese carriers operated about 325 weekly flights between the two countries, according to the Transportation Department. By mid-Feburary, only 20 remained, all of them run by Chinese airlines.

In March, that slowdown spread worldwide, bringing air travel to a screeching halt and devastating the global aviation industry. By April, demand for flights worldwide had fallen by more than 94 percent, compared with a year ago, according to the International Air Transport Association.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 2, 2020

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

But there have been signs in recent weeks that demand is recovering. The number of daily flights rose from late April to late May, countries are beginning to lift travel bans and business confidence is slowly recovering in key markets, including China, the United States and Germany, Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s chief executive, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The initial green shoots will take time — possibly years — to mature,” he said.

To accelerate that recovery, airlines are taking a wide range of measures aimed at addressing health concerns, including requiring masks for passengers and employees, leaving some seats empty, conducting temperature screenings and even, in some cases, drawing blood to test for the coronavirus.

In the United States, airlines are seeing a tepid recovery. In mid-April, the number of people screened at federal airport checkpoints was down as much as 96 percent, compared with last year. On Tuesday, it was down 88 percent.

To offset that devastating loss in revenue, many airlines, Delta and United among them, began using otherwise idled passenger planes for all-cargo flights, many of which transported crucial medical supplies from China to the United States and other countries. Those flights were unaffected by China’s March ruling and Wednesday’s Transportation Department order.