Friendlier skies: US, China to each allow four weekly flights

China-bound passengers will have pre-departure temperature checks, and key US airlines will make mask-wearing mandatory.

IATA airlines facemasks
US carries are taking the lead in asking passengers to wear masks [File: Jim Urquhart/Reuters]

The United States and China will each allow four weekly flights between the two countries, the US Transportation Department said on Monday, easing a standoff on travel restrictions in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The US government still hopes China will agree to restore full US flight rights under their bilateral aviation agreement, the Transportation Department said on Monday in its revised order on China flights.

“As the Chinese government allows more flights by US carriers, we will reciprocate,” it said.

The US had threatened to bar Chinese passenger flights on June 16 due to Beijing’s curbs on US airlines amid simmering tensions between the world’s two largest economies. It has also raised concerns about the number of charter flights Chinese carriers want to fly.

Among US airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines had each sought to restart daily passenger flights to China in June but changed their plans in the absence of government approval.

Following China’s agreement to allow four US flights in total, Delta said it would operate two flights to Shanghai from Seattle next week and once-weekly flights from Seattle and Detroit beginning in July, all via Seoul.

United said it was aiming to relaunch its service to China in the weeks ahead.

Chinese authorities have already agreed to some changes on requirements for US carriers, including allowing temperature checks to be done before flights take off for China, rather than mid-flight as previously discussed, a person briefed on the matter said.

The main US carriers are also imposing other health protocols on passengers to keep COVID-19 in check.

US airline passengers who refuse to wear face coverings during the novel coronavirus pandemic could have their flying privileges revoked, the industry’s main lobby group said on Monday.

Major US airlines may prevent anyone not wearing a mask from boarding and provide the coverings to passengers who have none. Once on board, however, flight attendants have little power to enforce the policy if passengers remove their masks.

Carriers with the policy include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, Airlines for America said in a statement.

The airlines will clearly inform passengers about their individual policies on face coverings before flying, followed by an announcement with specific details on board, it said.

Each carrier will determine the appropriate consequences for passengers who fail to comply, up to and including being put on that airline’s no-fly list.

Airlines offer certain exemptions, including when people are eating or drinking.

United, which last week said passengers would have to agree to wearing a face covering on a pre-flight checklist, said any passenger that does not comply with the policy on board beginning on June 18 will be placed on an internal travel restriction list that would prevent them from flying with the airline “for a duration of time to be determined pending a comprehensive incident review”.

Delta said it was doubling efforts to ensure customers are aware of, acknowledge and comply with its mask requirement, which it said is one of the most important ways to “stay safe while flying”.

The measures are expected to remain in place throughout the coronavirus crisis.

On Twitter, Senator Ed Markey, who has been vocal along with about a dozen other Democratic senators on airline issues during the pandemic, praised the tougher enforcement policies, adding: “But we still need federal action immediately.”

The US government has not mandated any airline safety requirements since the pandemic hit global aviation, despite calls from unions and industry.

“The federal government has completely abdicated its responsibility to keep the flying public and aviation workers safe during COVID-19,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said, adding “the industry alone cannot fix this.”

The administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, Stephen Dickson, is expected to be questioned about masks at a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

Source: Reuters