China eases flight curbs after United States targets its carriers

By Stella Qiu and Se Young Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) – China will ease coronavirus restrictions to allow more foreign carriers to fly to the mainland, shortly after Washington vowed to bar Chinese airlines from flying to the United States due to Beijing’s curbs on U.S. airlines.

Qualifying foreign carriers, about 95 of them currently barred from operating flights to China, will be allowed once-a-week flights into a city of their choosing starting on June 8, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said on Thursday.

But considering some countries are still banning international flights, it estimated the number of international flights would increase by 50 to 150 per week while the average of passengers arriving per day would rise to 4,700, up from around 3,000 now.

The CAAC said all airlines will be allowed to increase the number of international flights involving China to two per week if no passengers on their flights test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, for three consecutive weeks.

If five or more passengers on one flight test positive for COVID-19 upon arrival, the CAAC will bar the airline from services for a week. Airlines would be suspended for four weeks if 10 passengers or more test positive.

The CAAC has slashed international flights since late March to allay concerns over rising coronavirus infections brought by arriving passengers. Mainland carriers are limited to one flight a week on one route to any country and foreign airlines are allowed to operate just one flight a week to a city in China.

Carriers could also fly no more than the number of flights in a weekly schedule approved by the CAAC on March 12. U.S. passenger airlines already stopped all flights to China at that time, meaning they were unable to resume flights to China.

On Wednesday, the U.S. government said it would bar Chinese passenger carriers starting from June 16, pressuring Beijing to let U.S. airlines to resume flights.

The U.S. Department of Transportation could not be immediately reached for comment, though it has said it will reconsider the decision against Chinese airlines if the CAAC adjusts its policies affecting U.S. airlines.

Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said at a daily briefing on Thursday the CAAC is lodging a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation for the ruling against Chinese air carriers. He said the CAAC is in close cooperation with its U.S. counterpart about passenger flights.

“We hope the U.S. side will not create obstacles for the resolution of this issue,” Zhao said.

China suspended the entry of most foreigners in late March, meaning only Chinese nationals can enter on commercial passenger flights.

(Reporting by Stella Qiu, Se Young Lee, Huizhong Wu, Lusha Zhang and Cate Cadell; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Christian Schmollinger and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Major U.S. airlines endorse temperature checks for passengers

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A major U.S. airline trade group on Saturday said it backed the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checking the temperatures of passengers and customer-facing employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

Airlines for America, which represents the largest U.S. airlines including American Airlines <AAL.O>, United Airlines <UAL.O>, Delta Air Lines <DAL.N> and Southwest Airlines <LUV.N>, said the checks “will add an extra layer of protection for passengers as well as airline and airport employees. Temperature checks also will provide additional public confidence that is critical to relaunching air travel and our nation’s economy.”

A U.S. official said Saturday no decision has been made on whether to mandate the checks, but said the issue is the subject of extensive talks among government agencies and with U.S. airlines and added a decision could potentially be made as early as next week.

One possible route would be for a pilot project or to initially begin temperature checks at the largest U.S. airports. Questions remain about what the government would do if someone had a high temperature and was turned away from a flight.

U.S. officials said the temperature checks would not eliminate the risk of coronavirus cases but could act as a deterrent to prevent people who were not feeling well from traveling.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske told employees during a town hall meeting Wednesday that no decision had been made regarding possible temperature checks of passengers at airports and that questions remained about where such checks might take place and which agency might perform them.

“It’s been a discussion that’s been ongoing for several weeks now,” he said.

A TSA spokesman did not immediately comment Saturday.

Frontier Airlines said on Thursday it would begin temperature screenings for all passengers and crew members on June 1 and bar anyone with a temperature at or exceeding 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 C).

The move, the first among major U.S. airlines, followed the industry mandating facial coverings for all passengers and heightened cleaning procedures to address coronavirus concerns.

The airline group said having temperature checks performed by the TSA “will ensure that procedures are standardized.”

The endorsement comes amid signs of a modest travel rebound from historic lows. On Friday, TSA screened 215,444 people at airport checkpoints, the first time the number topped 200,000 since March 26. But that is still a fraction of the 2.6 million screened on the equivalent day last year.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese)

Hundreds of U.S. flights canceled after air traffic coronavirus cases

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. airlines have canceled hundreds of flights at three major U.S. airports this week after a series of coronavirus cases involving air traffic control personnel.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) temporarily closed the air traffic control tower at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York early Friday before reopening it around 11:30 a.m. ET (1530 GMT). The FAA also shuttered part of the Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center for cleaning after workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

The FAA said a technician at JFK had tested positive and air traffic controllers had been operating earlier from an alternate location on airport property.

American Airlines Group Inc <AAL.O> said it canceled 20 of its 68 scheduled departures from JFK on Friday due to a reduced incoming arrival rate after traffic control was shifted to the other location.

In Indiana, after an air traffic control supervisor tested positive, the FAA vacated work areas at the Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control and flights through the airspace handled by those sectors were rerouted.

Air traffic control towers remain closed at Chicago Midway and Las Vegas airports after other coronavirus cases were reported earlier this week.

Airlines have canceled more than 700 flights on Thursday and Friday at Las Vegas and more than 800 over the last two days at Midway, according to flightaware.com.

Southwest Airlines <LUV.N> has resumed operations in Chicago after canceling more than 200 flights on Thursday. The airline said it had also canceled another 150 flights at Chicago and more than 165 flights at Las Vegas airport on Friday.

On Thursday, the FAA placed a temporary flight restriction over Midway to allow only commercial flights and other authorized flights after a number of local private pilots began using the airport for touch-and-go landing practice.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Chris Reese and Richard Chang)