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US Airlines Are Sitting Out China’s Reopening

United, Delta and American are pressing Washington to ban Chinese planes headed to or from the US from flying over Russia.

Beijing Daxing International Airport.

Beijing Daxing International Airport.

Photographer: Jade Gao/Getty Images

After three years of largely self-imposed isolation because of Covid‑19, China is finally reopening. But US airlines aren’t lining up to reinstate the once-abundant services between the world’s two largest economies. In pre-pandemic 2019, direct flights between the US and China by carriers from both countries averaged 340 per week. Today there are a maximum of just two dozen weekly.

The biggest US airlines—American, Delta and United—will keep flying at reduced pandemic-era levels, though not because they expect weak demand, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified speaking about private discussions. Rather, it’s a dispute over Russian airspace restrictions that apply to about three dozen countries, including the US, but not to China.