Flights are roaring back everywhere – so why not between the US and China?
This month, the number of direct flights between the US and China is a total of 48. That is not per day, across all airlines. It is for the whole monthaccording to timetable data from Cirium Diio Mi.
- United operates 16 flights from San Francisco – Shanghai.
- Air China operates 4 Los Angeles – Beijing and 4 Los Angeles – Shenzhen flights.
- China Southern operates 4 Los Angeles – Guangzhou and 4 New York JFK – Guangzhou flights.
- Xiamen Airlines operates 8 flights from Los Angeles to Xiamen.
- China Eastern operates 8 flights from New York JFK – Shanghai.
It is a huge contrast to the service that existed before the pandemic. In addition to flights between major US cities and Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, Hainan Airlines flew Changsha–Los Angeles as well as Chongqing–Los Angeles and New York; Sichuan Airlines flew Hangzhou-Los Angeles and Jinan-Los Angeles; and Xiamen Airlines flew Shenzhen–Seattle, Fuzhou–New York and Qingdao–Los Angeles.
However, the service is gradually returning. Brian Znotins, American Airlines vice president of network planning, shared in an employee ‘Crew News’ meeting with pilots last week that they will be able to serve Dallas Fort Worth – Shanghai four times a week starting in March and through the summer and that this will not longer will require a stop in Seoul, a procedure put in place to avoid the crew being quarantined upon arrival.
For ..well over a year we operated a one time base via Seoul so we could position our crews through Seoul and not have them stay in Shanghai.
Over the last few weeks … we have worked out an agreement with the Chinese government and the US government that we can now operate non-stop to China, so we no longer stop in Seoul. We have worked with APA on acceptable hotel accommodation there, and we found a solution to that.
And what’s more, we’ve actually been able to increase our direct flights from DFW from twice a week to four times a week. It now matches United’s and Delta’s allocation and also matches the Chinese airlines. So we are in a very good place, able to provide the non-stop service, demand is coming back in China, our flights are full, we are doing very well.
So why haven’t flights to China returned sooner?
- Business travel is down, and that drove the airline’s desire to fly there. Apple was the primary customer for United’s San Francisco–Shanghai service. It’s no surprise that the plane has returned in a limited fashion.
- Tensions have increased between China and the United States, and the opportunities to do business there are more limited. Actually opportunities for the chinese doing business in China is more restricted now than it was during Xi Jinping’s time in power. Being a billionaire in China has the same excess mortality as billionaires in Russia.
- China has just barely passed its major virus wave after pulling the bandwagon of Zero Covid. An unknown seven-figure number of people died.
- China imposed strict limits on flights from the US, apparently as part of the Covid protocols. In response, the United States imposed restrictions on flights to the United States by Chinese airlines. They have been modestly relaxed.
- Before the pandemic, these flights were not always profitable. Chinese airlines flew to the US to squat routes (China will not allow more than one of its airlines to fly a given route, so Chinese airlines would start a route to block others from getting there first.) During the In the 15 years leading up to the pandemic, the number of flights between the US and China increased fivefold. That meant very low prices.
American Airlines dropped its flights from Chicago to Beijing and Shanghai in 2018. American dropped LA to Beijing and Shanghai and planned to move Shanghai service to Seattle.
United dropped San Francisco – Xi’an and San Francisco – Hangzhou. Hawaiian Airlines dropped Honolulu – Beijing.
American airlines had been heavily involved in China, but they too were squatting. Since there is no Open Skies agreement between the US and China (and as a result, none allowed joint ventures either), the Department of Transportation handed out permitted frequencies. American airlines tried to seize them, even when they did not have much flight capacity, in case they were useful in the future and block competitors.
Delta had bought a stake in China Eastern and made real progress in aligning with them. Naturally, American Airlines followed Delta and bought a stake in China Southern. But American never flew to China Southern’s home in Guangzhou, and in 2019 wrote down the value of the investment by a quarter.
Flying between the US and China is slowly returning, with less optimism than it once had.