24th November 2023 – (Beijing) The resumption of direct flights between the United States and China remains stalled far below pre-pandemic levels. This glaring gap in air connectivity impedes the natural flow of tourism, business, and ideas between the world’s two largest economies.
With pent-up demand on both sides of the Pacific, now is the time to lift arbitrary restrictions and let cross-border travel flourish once more. Each additional flight restored brings our societies closer amidst drifting geopolitical tides.
Prior to 2020, over 300 nonstop flights departed weekly between the U.S. and China. These bustling aerial bridges ferried millions of eager tourists, students, families, and business travellers annually.
Entire industries flourished around these routes as cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Beijing, and Shanghai grew deeply intertwined. Air travel woven between the U.S. and China stitched a profound human bond that transcended politics.
But today, direct flights linger at just a fraction of previous levels due to lingering COVID-19 limitations. The US currently permits only 12 weekly passenger flights from China, while China allows 12 weekly inbound US flights.
This equates to just 24 total flights weekly — a mere 8% of pre-pandemic frequency. Anemic connectivity stunts opportunities that uplift both societies and our mutual understanding.
With China decisively winding down zero-COVID restrictions, the time is ripe to fully restore flight links. We must break free from outdated pandemic limitations that now unnecessarily hamper exchange.
Each new flight approved gets us closer to pre-crisis norms. Yet the current snail’s pace of progress fails to match the urgency of reviving US-China people-to-people bonds. Clear skies must not wait. Consider that airlines have already proposed 63 combined weekly flights between our countries this winter. This demonstrates remarkable travel demand. But unless flight caps expand, most eager customers will remain grounded.
Surely we can accommodate more than a mere 24 weekly flights between the world’s largest economies. Swiftly lifting restrictions would unleash suppressed tourism and commerce. And it would rekindle the goodwill that blossoms when our societies intermingle unfettered.
Some will argue that caution is still needed given lingering pandemic risks. But with high vaccination rates and new oral COVID treatments, the public health rationale for heavy travel curbs no longer applies.
We have entered a new normal where open borders and free movement should again be the default. The U.S. and China should align policy with this changing landscape to benefit citizens impatient to reconnect.
Make no mistake, the costs of depressed air links are steep for both countries. The US Travel Association estimates current flight limits cost America $11 billion annually in Chinese visitor spending. Tourism businesses remain hobbled without this thriving source of revenue. Likewise, Chinese students who enrich American campuses face frustration trying to secure flights westward. And divided families ache for easier access to longed-for reunions.
The business community also feels stymied by atrophied air routes. Dealmakers can only achieve so much over video calls bereft of in-person chemistry. And supply chain resilience suffers absent free flows of commercial travel.
In fact, leading industry groups like the U.S.-China Business Council have called on governments to lift flight restrictions. They understand the urgency of restarting commercial engines that power both economies and sustain millions of jobs.
Expanded connectivity will also have profound societal impact by facilitating educational exchange. Students and researchers of all fields thrive through collaboration across borders. Yet visa hurdles remain daunting, as do scarce flights westward for Chinese academics. Alleviating these bottlenecks reopens pathways to academic achievement and scientific advancement.
Broader educational exchange also nurtures deep mutual understanding between generations of future leaders. China hosts over 370,000 international students, including Americans hungry for immersion in a culture and language key to 21st century success.
Conversely, American universities’ diversity and openness attract top Chinese scholars seeking perspective and expertise to share abroad. Renewed flight links can reinvigorate this vital educational traffic in both directions. Some oppose adding flights due to recent bilateral frictions over trade, technology, and security. But separating societies breeds suspicion and estrangement that feed adversarial cycles. More interaction dispels such friction through empathy and common purpose. Diplomatic spats come and go. Yet the deep desire for U.S.-China exchange persists as a ballast for overall relations. Air travel fuels this people-to-people resonance that rises above politics.
In fact, leaders on both sides recognize this dynamic. Presidents Biden and Xi themselves pledged to facilitate two-way travel and communication at their November summit. Now we must hold them to that commitment.
With blossoming demand and receding health risks, allowing only two dozen weekly flights between our nations makes little sense. What are we so afraid of by fully reopening skies that long brought prosperity when traversed freely?
Of course skeptics will argue more U.S.-China travel enables technology theft or espionage. But a blanket premise of suspicion undermines worthy exchange that far outweighs remote risks.
Some barriers unfortunately lie beyond policy quick fixes. Structural factors like limited aviation infrastructure will constrain potential flight volumes. And certain Chinese visa constraints remain embedded given security priorities. But redoubling flights wherever feasible remains imperative. The alternative of severed air links exacts an economic and social toll while breeding distrust. Renewed exchange nurtures goodwill and common purpose that safeguard overall ties.