American, United are suspending continuous flights to Shanghai due to considerations about restrictions confronted by abroad crews

American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner takes off from Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California on November 11, 2020.

AaronP | Farmer Griffin | GC Images | Getty Images

American Airlines and United Airlines are suspending plans to operate nonstop flights from the U.S. to Shanghai after reports of long wait times for flight crews to arrive, limited local accommodations, and restrictions on their movement around the country, according to people familiar with the matter.

They will instead route the flights with a layover in South Korea, people said, asking not to be named because they have no authority to speak about it.

Airlines have not resumed most of their China service after shutting it down in February when the coronavirus spread.

American Airlines planned to start nonstop flights this month, carrying only cargo from Los Angeles to Shanghai, but will continue the flight with a stopover in Seoul, South Korea en route to Asia. However, it will fly non-stop back to Los Angeles from Shanghai. American has also continued to make a stopover in Seoul on its cargo-only flights from Dallas-Fort Worth and Los Angeles to Beijing because of similar concerns, one respondent said.

Long waits to get to hotels are a problem for airlines as they can meet federal requirements for crew rest.

American Airlines resumed its China flight last month, with flights between Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Shanghai with a stopover in Seoul.

"We are delighted with this decision and look forward to further dialogue to ensure that resumption of flight is in the best interests of Americans and their pilots," said Dennis Tajer, captain and spokesman for American Airlines 737 representing the Allied Pilots Association the carrier's pilots.

For its part, United said it added a stopover in Seoul for its San Francisco-Shanghai service.

"Due to changes in operating conditions, we have adapted the service between San Francisco and Shanghai to include a stopover in Seoul, South Korea, for a crew change, as we did earlier this year," United said in a statement. Passengers who have booked to Shanghai will remain on the plane during the stop.

In addition to long airport waits, airline unions have raised concerns about the Chinese government's mandatory airport hotel that flight crews would stay in and reported restrictions on crews leaving hotel rooms.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington and the US Department of Transportation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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