By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. government said on Thursday it will suspend 26 China-bound flights from the United States by four Chinese carriers in response to the Chinese government's decision to suspend some U.S. carrier flights over COVID-19 cases.
The decision will affect flights by Xiamen, Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines from Sept. 5 to Sept. 28. The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) cited the recent cancellation of 26 American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines flights over COVID-19 cases.
The suspensions include 19 China-bound flights from Los Angeles and 7 China Eastern flights from New York.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington's spokesperson Liu Pengyu said the USDOT action was "extremely irresponsible" and "groundlessly suspended Chinese airline flights."
The embassy said China's COVID-19 "circuit breaker" measures were fair and transparent, applied both to Chinese and foreign airlines and were consistent with bilateral air transportation agreements.
USDOT said as of Aug. 7 Chinese authorities had revised their policies so if the number of passengers on a flight to China testing positive for COVID-19 reached 4% of the total, one flight would be suspended. If it reached 8%, two flights would be suspended.
USDOT said the U.S. has repeatedly raised objections with China, saying the rules place "undue culpability on carriers" when travelers test negative before boarding their flight from the United States only to "test positive for COVID-19 after their arrival in China."
Beijing and Washington have sparred over air services since the start of the pandemic. In January, the Transportation Department suspended 44 China-bound flights from the United States by the four Chinese carriers in response to China's decision suspend 44 flights by U.S. carriers.
In August 2021, USDOT limited four flights from Chinese carriers to 40% passenger capacity for four weeks after Beijing imposed identical limits on four United Airlines flights.
Three U.S. airlines and four Chinese carriers typically operate about 20 flights a week between the countries, well below the figure of more than 100 a week before the pandemic.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio and Richard Pullin)Click Here To Get Funded!