China and US play tit-for-tat tricks

BEIJING, 23 August 2021: China and the US are playing tit-for-tat on passenger capacity on flights between the two countries that is now limited to 40% of the sellable seats during August.

First China imposed a limit on United Airlines’ four weekly flights serving China. Then late last week, the US declared it would reduce the sellable seat capacity of four Chinese airlines to 40%. China’s Foreign Ministry said the move would hit the four Chinese airlines badly during the period they would normally operate full flights packed with Chinese students returning to the US for the autumn school or university semesters.

The US Transportation Department’s limit on passenger capacity will be in force for four weeks.

First reported by Reuters, the US rule limits the passenger uplift capacity to 40% on direct flights from China. It impacts four Chinese carriers; Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines.

According to Reuters, on 6 August, China told United Airlines it was facing limits after five passengers who travelled from San Francisco to Shanghai tested positive for COVID-19 on flight UA857, which landed in Shanghai on 22 July.

United Airlines was given three options: Cancel two San Francisco to Shanghai flights, operate two scheduled passenger flights as cargo flights, or operate four flights with up to 40% of passenger capacity for four weeks. The company chose the third option.

The 40%  capacity limit will force Chinese airlines to refund many passengers for existing bookings or offer a routing that goes via Hong Kong with a change of flight numbers and aircraft.