US, China agree to double airline flights between them after months-long coronavirus travel cutbacks

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The United States and China have agreed to double the number of airline flights that each other's airlines can operate between the countries, from four to eight per week, the U.S. Transportation Department announced Tuesday.

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The department said China's aviation authority decided this week to permit expanded flights by United and Delta. Shortly after the announcement, Chicago-based United Airlines said it will go from two to four flights per week between San Francisco and Shanghai via Seoul, starting Sept. 4.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines is also eligible to increase its two weekly flights to four, the department said. Delta confirmed later Tuesday it would add a fourth flight per week from Detroit and Seattle to Shanghai, via Seoul, beginning Aug. 24, Reuters reported. The airline had been operating three flights a week since July.

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The deal marks a further easing of a standoff between the world's two biggest economies over travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic. President Trump on Jan. 31 banned nearly all non-U.S. citizens from entering the United States from China.

Chinese airlines that already fly to the United States — Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines — will be allowed to make eight weekly round-trips instead of four, the department said.

The department repeated its hope that China will agree to fully restore the treaty rights of U.S. airlines to serve China, but called the most recent increase in flying “a step in the right direction."

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In early January, there were more than 300 flights per week between the two countries, but that number nosedived after the pandemic undercut demand for international air travel. United, Delta and American Airlines suspended flights to China by mid-March.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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