Delta and United ready to return to China as international routes slowly resume

May 18, 2020

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Delta Air Lines and United Airlines hope to resume flights to China in June, four months after they suspended service to the country during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Atlanta-based Delta aims resume operate daily flights to Shanghai Pudong (PVG) from both its Detroit (DTW) and Seattle-Tacoma (SEA) hubs on June 1, the airline said Monday. It would fly an Airbus A350-900 on the Detroit route and an Airbus A330-900 on the Seattle route. The A350 will become Delta’s largest jet with its recent decision to retire its Boeing 777s.

Chicago-based United plans to resume daily service to Shanghai from both Newark (EWR) and San Francisco (SFO) on June 4, Cirium schedules show and United confirmed. The airline would also resume flights between Beijing Capital (PEK) and San Francisco the same day.

Get Coronavirus travel updates. Stay on top of industry impacts, flight cancellations, and more.

United would fly a 777-300ER on the Newark-Shanghai route, and a Boeing 787-9 — the new “workhorse” of its long-haul fleet — on both San Francisco routes.

Any resumption in passenger flights is subject to Chinese government approval, both carriers said.

Resuming passenger flights to China is a positive sign. Both Delta and United cancelled all service to China in the early days of the pandemic when many believed the virus could be contained. However, after the initial outbreak in Wuhan, COVID-19 has spread globally and claimed more lives in the U.S. than anywhere else.

Related: A country-by-country guide to coronavirus recovery

China remains largely closed to international visitors after suspending entry for nearly all foreigners in March. However, it has recently allowed South Koreans to travel to some cities on business and is reportedly discussing reopening travel with some 14 countries.

Those restrictions, as well as ones in nearly every other country, have many forecasting a slow recovery in international travel. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects it to take three or four years for international passenger numbers to return to 2019 levels, though domestic numbers could return in as little as two years.

So even if Delta and United get the green light to resume flights in June, would-be travelers should not plan on immediately strolling down The Bund or taking in the Great Wall. Foreigners entering China are likely face some restrictions for some months to come.

American Airlines, for one, is not expecting a significant uptick in travel to China anytime soon. The Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier has suspended flights to both Beijing and Shanghai until the end of October.

Related: These are the only long-haul routes American, Delta and United plan to fly in May

Featured image by GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images.

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