The Transportation Department said it'll largely award the flights based on its main objective -- "to maximize the public benefits."
American and Continental say their proposed routes would benefit more of the public than United's because they would serve larger markets than Washington.
United doesn't see it that way. "I never saw anybody with a straight face suggest that Dallas is larger than Washington," said Michael Whitaker, United's VP of international and regulatory affairs.
Continental CEO Lawrence Kellner testified that United already has authority to fly to China from Washington. It need only change one of its existing routes, he said.
United's Whitaker said it would be absurd to switch out of a "high demand" market -- Chicago or San Francisco -- "to fund a new one."
The squabbling isn't likely to end yet. The Transportation Department first plans to make a "tentative decision," said spokesman Bill Mosley, which will give time for the parties "to show cause why the award shouldn't be final."
Will all opposed to the choice raise their hand?
It's the nature of airlines to spend time trash-talking about their competitor's applications, even as they extol the virtues of their own.
Northwest Airlines sees potential for nonstop service with the dramatic increase in connections between the two countries
United's campaign played to a favorite obsession inside the Beltway: Washington's global stature.
Continental is competing against three other carriers for new flights to China beginning next spring.