U.S. Airlines Are Now Pawns In The President’s Re-Election Saber Rattling Against China

Delta and United are looking to restart flights to China. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is largely under control there. It is home to several important business markets. Delta owns a stake in China Eastern and has viewed Shanghai as a hub, while for United the country is their sixth largest international market. (For American, despite owning a stake in China Southern, the country has mostly been a place to light cash on fire.)

However they’re caught up in escalating tensions between the U.S. and China. President Trump has made a ‘tough on China’ stance a centerpiece of his re-election campaign. He’s said he wants ‘compensation’ for the coronavirus outbreak, blaming Chinese obfuscation for delaying the world’s understanding of what we’re dealing with. China clearly downplayed the threat of person-to-person spread of the virus into mid-January, and has juked its own stats on infections and deaths, though the U.S. failed to take decisive action in the weeks following a clear understanding posed by the virus.

Tensions are further escalating as China seeks to assert greater control over Hong Kong and crush dissent while the world is distracted by COVID-19.

China is standing in the way of re-starting air service by U.S. carriers as part of geopolitical gamesmanship. Although, in response, the U.S. is imposing bureaucratic costs on Chinese airlines.

For now China wants to permit U.S. carriers to each operate just one flight per week to the country. The opening gambit is no flights, because U.S. airlines weren’t operating China flights in mid-March, but they would agree to one flight since Chinese airlines are only being permitted to fly once a week by their regulator.

The problem facing the US carriers is that the CAAC, in an effort to stop imported cases of Covid-19, ordered all airlines to use their flight schedules for the March 16-22 week as a benchmark to determine how many flights they could operate to China until further notice. By that date, US airlines had “completely ceased flying passenger service to China,” according to the Department of Transportation.

China also wants U.S. airlines be be liable for passengers arriving positive for COVID-19 on their flights, which would “violate the countries’ air transport agreement.” Of course it’s precisely that sort of liability that the U.S. President seeks to impose on China, whose people traveled by plane to the U.S. carrying the virus (although much of the East Coast outbreak is attributable to people traveling with the virus from Europe).

The U.S. is retaliating by requiring Chinese airlines to file detailed plans, and holding out the possibility that it might object to those plans as against the public interest. China is furious at the looming threat, despite imposing restrictions of their own.

While China certainly lacks clean hands in its early approach to the spread of the virus, that issue now serves as a primary means of the President deflecting blame over the way the crisis unfolded in the U.S. Unquestionably the CDC and FDA performed very badly, although the stronger argument would be simply that we were unprepared for a major virus the same way that Western European democracies were generally unprepared.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I guess Gary is voting for Biden, or whoever the Democratic Nominee is if for some reason Biden cannot serve.

    This post is an invitation for the Trump Derangement Syndrome folks to come out of the woodwork.

    I think I will watch a movie.

  2. Actually the first post came from one of the Trump MAGA trolls. Go figure.
    May you and your family stay COVID free so none of us doctors will have to spend resources to save your sorry ass.

  3. Like it or no, this is just what is to come in future. Trump wanted nationalism and that sentiment was spreading in other countries as well. This virus might have accelerated that process by countries restricting trade with beneficial partners only not just the biggest or baddest. Nationalism, regionalism, etc is all coming and going to be threat to Open Skies and globalism as we know it. Doesn’t matter you are for Trump or against, hopefully US isn’t the loser in all of this.

  4. Trump stopped flights from China in late January, when Pelosi, and Biden were called him racist, and xenophobic.

    then Pelosi appeared in San Fran China town the next month, in Feb telling everyone to visit, and that it’s safe.

    The NY state surgeon general equivalent role, a women was on TV telling everyone there was no risk.

    Biden later came out, in March, and released a press statement on a Friday night, stating Trump was right to stop the flights from China.

    so i think it’s a bit much to state:

    “though the U.S. failed to take decisive action in the weeks following a clear understanding posed by the virus.”

    If the Communists fessed up in December, when they knew it, and didn’t co opt the WHO to defend their position, we wouldn’t have been locked down for the past 2.5 months, not suffered the 100K deaths, and collateral damage the communist regime have caused the US, and the world.

    you need to look at what the Chinese have been doing internationally for the past two decades. In ASEAN and African nations, they have gone in with their infrastructure program and taking over ports, and other transport channels, when the nations can’t pay them. They have bribed Prime Ministers in South Pacific island nations.

    they are not just serial thieves of IP, they are on the march attempting to take the mantel from the US for world dominance, and to spread communism worldwide. keep an eye on how they expand their military budgets over the next decade.

    not unlike Iran, and other regimes, it is not the people, it’s the oppressive leadership…..

    hopefully as they suffer the disdain of the world, they will crawl back under their oppressive communist rock.

    Australia, not unlike the US have demanded they explain, and table what they have refused to date

    in response, the Chinese cancel imports from Australia. and teh Chinese call Australia, “US’s kanagroo”

  5. @Tim O’Brien “Trump stopped flights from China in late January” when the virus was already inside the country. By lack of decisive action I’m referring to bungled testing, the federal government would only permit use of its own test which didn’t work, it shipped defective kits.

    While greater transparency from China would have been helpful, the result in the U.S. wasn’t due to lack of Chinese transparency it was due to our own bureaucratic ineptness.

  6. When you unravel the details of how some of the air carriers manipulated the actual intent for their federal bailout, those carriers should not be the top dog leading our reaction.

    Knowing China’s irredeemable history over the past 30 years to suck out our manufacturing, playing to the arrogance and greed of our politicians and corporate leaders, this overt threat to our national security is only now beginning to unravel. Currently, who can explain why Boeing built a jet plant in China, which only gives up the patents and blueprints to be copied (or heisted) to enable China to produce jets in competition; also, to end run our embargo on Iran.

    For me, I’ll go with Senator Tom Cotten and his judgement. Right now, I doubt he is concerned to re-establish flights to China. After all, when we closed down direct flights from China, so they came to the U.S. via Europe, which explains how our east coast was saturated with this death virus.

    Our priority now is to re-build our industrial base to manufacture drugs, PPE, medical equipment/supplies. With what’s going on in Hong Kong, what’s the rush to open up China?

  7. @ Gary really, enough with your political nonsense. Why not stick to something basic you can understand, like credit card points?

    @Pete wow, we are all really impressed you’re a doctor. Sorry you had to do your job.

  8. Gary, stop being such a hack. Trumps “tough on China” stance started more than 5 years ago when he was a candidate the first time around.

    Btw, Biden used his family to sell out our country to the Chinese.

  9. I see it very simply if Chinese carriers are flying into The US then either China allows ours to start up again or ban the Chinese Carriers from flying into The US

    If The Chinese carriers arent flying in only since The US wont let them then China is right not to let US Carriers fly in

    It cant be biz as usual with China where they do as they want and leave everyone else in the gutter

  10. China had pretty much suspended all foreigner visa and enforced the 5-1s (one airline, country, one route, once per week) since March 28. What happened then, due to supply-demand, is that the Chinese airlines can charge Chinese nationals business-class prices for economy seats. Is US airlines eager to join on the price gauging of the price-insensitive must-travels? probably, but with foreigners not able to get a visa, enabling capacity is probably not a good idea for the US airlines.

  11. “The President’s Re-Election Saber Rattling Against China”

    You nailed it! It’s all just posturing for the upcoming election. That;s why Trump waited until less than 21 years before the election to start speaking tough to China.

    Donald Trump to Cokie Roberts, December 5, 1999:

    “Look, the United States has been a sucker for many, many years on world trade. That’s why our deficits are so — you know, in China, we lose a hundred billion dollars to China, and then we have a problem with North Korea, and China won’t help us because nobody speaks to them properly. Not tough, properly.”

  12. I think the political discussion here is significantly off-base, but I think that’s beside the point. I don’t think the US airlines are “pawns” in a political game here. More accurately, they are impacted by the global COVID-19 problem. Resuming flights to China is probably not a high priority item. Getting flights up and running to Europe is.

  13. How does saying ‘Trump has always had a negative view of China’ rebut that this is “a centerpiece of his re-election campaign” as I wrote?

    And by the way complaining about the trade deficit in 1999, when projections of the harm that deficit would cause never came to pass, isn’t really an effective defense of the President either.

  14. Gary, sad that the racists and xenophobes and MAGA trolls have decided to congregate on your site…funny how they have migrated over here from Breitbart and 4Chan and the Daily Caller the last few years…I bet most barely even travel.

  15. Oh, and MAGA trolls, enjoy your final 161 days! Swing state polling isn’t looking so good for you these days…nice that he got to spend his 269th(!) day in office at one of his golf clubs this weekend as we hit 100K deaths.

  16. True Trump supporters should put their money where their mouth is, and follow the president’s advice – dose yourself up with hydroxychloroquine and inject disinfectant into your body. I am a conservative but I don’t know how any moderately educated person could possibly support such an idiot…

  17. Gary, is there any information as to when Americans with pre-existing visas will be allowed into China again? I intend to be on one of the first planes in, but I have seen no indication at all when this will happen.

  18. Trump supporters… you are:

    Of very low intelligence
    No soul
    No integrity
    Unbelievably blinkered
    A danger to society and the planet
    Very selfish to future generations
    Despicable humans with no conscience.

    You make me physically sick when I see your fat ugly redneck faces at MAGA dumb-rallies and elsewhere.

  19. @Gary continues to claim “Western European democracies were generally unprepared”, when the claim was already debunked.

    “Generally unprepared” is meaningless when the nature of the threat cannot be anticipated. The western democracies but one — the USA — reacted as they should have once the threat was identified, while it was being called a “hoax” in the USA. When you cut and paste that text in the future, please leave out the bogus claim.

    Here’s what Germany, which you’d claimed was especially awful in its response, did:

    “In mid-January, long before most Germans had given the virus much thought, Charité hospital in Berlin had already developed a test and posted the formula online.

    By the time Germany recorded its first case of Covid-19 in February, laboratories across the country had built up a stock of test kits.

    “The reason why we in Germany have so few deaths at the moment compared to the number of infected can be largely explained by the fact that we are doing an extremely large number of lab diagnoses,” said Dr. Christian Drosten, chief virologist at Charité, whose team developed the first test.”

  20. There is no doubt that China is primarily to blame for this virus running around the world. To suggest otherwise is to ignore history.

    There is no doubt that Trump initially blew it on the virus…downplaying its impact…suggesting it was under control…stopping travel for only one side of the world while the virus entered the US on the other side…and in general not taking it seriously enough. To suggest otherwise is to ignore history.

    There is no doubt that the CDC bungled this badly (particularly testing) and its bungling had little to do with Trump. To suggest otherwise is to ignore history.

    There is no doubt that any President was going to get ovewhelmed by this crisis. Nobody could have been prepared for it.

    There is no doubt that the above statement doesn’t excuse Trump from making things worse with bad/mixed messaging because he was more concerned about his 2020 election prospects.

    There is no doubt that shutting down the US is not sustainable long term. The economic damage has been great and will not recover quickly.

    There is no doubt that arguing that saving the economy is paramount over being safe is an untenable position because any major virus spike as a result of reopening the economy is going to destroy it again anyways because people will instinctively hunker down and the businesses that were dying because of the shut down will continue to die because people will be too scared of getting the virus to frequent them.

    There’s plenty of blame to go around here and nobody’s hands are clean but nobody (outside of China maybe) deserves to be singled out. And there are no good solutions other than hope for a vaccine soon. Everything else is just political BS…

  21. The anti-China rhetoric is going to appeal to 2 groups: the fruitcake right and the disaffected hillbillies/rednecks/gun-toters/wackos…but ( fortunately) in insufficient numbers to allow the horror show to continue beyond January. That’s not to say China shouldn’t be held to account for its failings.
    No reasonable person would view Trump’s performance on this matter as anything less than disgraceful, and a national embarrassment and scandal.
    Of course he’s been aided and abetted by many GOP shysters…too busy offloading stocks or working on plans to bail out their business cronies, rather less concerned with public health issues.

  22. @Doug Swalen — Agreed with much of the comment until this: “There’s plenty of blame to go around here and nobody’s hands are clean but nobody (outside of China maybe) deserves to be singled out.”

    Trump deserves to be singled out because he failed on just about every facet of the response to the threat, so that instead of leading, the world’s the richest, most scientifically and medically advanced and generally most endowed country in the history of mankind now accounts for nearly ~1/3 of all CV-19 cases and deaths worldwide, despite having just 4.25% of the total world population.

    Worse, he has not learned a thing about being POTUS when, before him, ordinary people have risen to do extraordinary things at times of great national or international challenges. Instead Trump is still excelling at being PETTY:

    “As the death toll in the coronavirus pandemic neared 100,000 Americans this Memorial Day weekend, President Trump derided and insulted perceived enemies and promoted a baseless conspiracy theory, in between rounds of golf.

    In a flurry of tweets and retweets Saturday and Sunday, Trump mocked former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’s weight, ridiculed the looks of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and called former Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton a “skank.”

    He revived long-debunked speculation that a television host with whom Trump has feuded may have killed a woman and asserted without evidence that mail-in voting routinely produces ballot stuffing.

    He made little mention of the sacrifice Americans honor on Memorial Day or the grim toll of the virus.”


  23. @Doug Swalen +1000. Thank you.

    @Tim O’Brien you need to stop posting the same nonsense about Trump stopping flights in January. He did no such thing. On Jan 31 the government announced that any foreigners who had traveled to China within the past two weeks are barred from entry, and as of Feb 2 flights from China are limited to certain airports and US citizens who had been to Wuhan had to self quarantine for two weeks. Flight bans came much later.

    I am not a Trump supporter by any means BUT China is a huge threat to the US. Trump was right to go after them, even though he screwed it up with his ham fisted theatrics and poorly thought out fight plan. And let’s not forget that his clothes line and that of his daughter are made in China and surprise surprise were exempt from the tariffs he put in place in 2018.

  24. Definitely, China’s hands is not clean with regards to suppressing the virus early on. But when they did draconian measures to shutdown the spread of the virus the American government could have done more early on to contain the spread in the USA.

    If you look at the numbers of dead in the usa vs that of China there is a big difference in outcomes.
    Dr. Trump has done a lot of damage by questioning the science of a pandemic. He is the quack doctor who suggested injecting chlorox into one’s veins for a cure.

    He continues to insist to open up states without any meaningful guidance on how we can stay safe . All he cares about is his polls and re-election chances of winning. You might say that Covid-19 will spoil his re-election chances, but I say he would be the one responsible for his own loss in the November elections. He did that all on his own. He equates not wearing face masks as an assertion of freedom- not as a badge of consideration and safety to your fellow American.
    “Give me Liberty, or give me death” might me a more apt byline in this case.

  25. I never thought your credit card shill posts would be a more intelligent and engaging read. This is a disgusting partisan hit job. Your confirmation bias is astounding. This is a worldwide pandemic, but leftists like you blame Trump as if it were a reflex. I’m done with this blog. Any non – leftists out there disgusted by the politicization of tragedy, and in the process taking sides with China, should join me.

  26. I don’t think anyone will argue that China has culpability. The issue is how you play the game. Trump wants to play football when the Chinese are playing chess. That’s Trump’s greatest failing. He is too dumb to understand the fundamentals of international diplomacy/gamesmanship. Anything that does not involve sending in your linebacker on every play to take out the quarterback is too much for him. Even worse, he is too dumb to listen to anyone (everyone) that is smarter than he is and trying to explain this.

  27. @WWr2 — Gary Leff is no lefty. Really. In any case, we’re way passed partisanship. SARS-CoV-2 does not know left from right from middle. It attacks and kills without regard to ideology. That you’re still a Trump sycophant after he’s shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that he’s the worst POTUS ever is a reflection on you and not on the blog host.

    China did what China always does, which was to try to hide anything that would make it look bad, except it turned out that the virus was too contagious (and lethal) to be kept under wrap, so China belatedly sounded the alarm. However, what China is guilty of does not excuse Trump’s pathetic response, especially given the resources at his disposal that he failed to mobilize. Folks like you are looking for a fall guy to bail out Trump yet again, as he’s been bailed out his entire life. Not this time. The chickens are coming home to roost..

  28. Plenty of fault to go around but Trump doesn’t get to act like he is somehow not responsible or put the blame all on China. If he was stupid enough to believe what China said (which it seems clear he was) then he is too stupid to be president. The intelligence agencies were telling him China was lying. They have done this exact thing before, so the blame belongs squarely on Trump for being a sucker. China actually had him praising their leader for crying out loud. Trump is simply not qualified from an experience perspective or from an intellectual perspective for this job.

  29. I’d like it if you’d report on airlines without giving your political spin. I get plenty of that from other sources. You really think China now has the Wuhan virus under control? I trust you, don’t give me reasons to change that opinion.

  30. @DougSwalen You said “There is no doubt that any president was going to get overwhelmed by this crisis. Nobody could have been prepared for it”.
    Wrong. Chump got rid of the Pandemic Commision initiated by Obama. To suggest otherwise is to ignore history. Of course if chump would have kept the Commision he would not have listened to their recommendations becaus it was an Obama thing.
    chump is the man who abrogated the nuclear deal with Iran that Obama signed. The deal was working but along comes chump. End of story. To suggest otherwise would be to ignore history. chump the spiteful whore.

  31. @Rog — Agreed fully. Many presidents, including Obama with the Great Recession, have met great challenges and acquitted themselves well. America has more human and material resources that than any other country and if mobilized by a leader who knows what he’s doing and listens to experts rather than claiming that he knows more about ‘warfare than the generals’ or about ‘ medicine than the physicians’, there is no problem too intractable…

  32. It is not just airlines. We are all pawns in Trump’s plans for reelection through chaos and division.

    And those who whine about political spin are just mad that someone produces facts that show what a lousy president he is. Deep down they know he doesn’t deserve their support but they can’t help themselves. What power does that man have over you???

    Politics is something we should be glad to discuss anytime anywhere. Instead the Great Divider makes political discussion a dirty subject unless it is praise for him.

    Trump’s love affair with dictators and disdain for our democratic allies, oafish behavior, and abandonment of American world leadership is throwing away the sacrifices of American soldiers and the hard work of every President since Wilson that made America a country to be admired and emulated.

    MAGA should be Biden’s motto.

  33. Gary,
    I’m done with you and your Hate Trump rants. Maybe you can get a job on CNN and express your political opinion. I used to read your travel related information and gain useful information. What makes you think anyone wants to hear about your politics? Maybe you should write about how you think the travel industry will look after a few years under a socialist president. Quote some facts about socialist countries that have thrived, wait, there are none. Stop and think before you run your mouth about one-sided anti-Trump opinion. Opinion is not fact. you should start any political statements with “In my opinion”.

    In my opinion, this site is now useless and I really don’t give a crap about your opinion, as I am sure you don’t give a crap about mine.

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