by Will Horton
Under rules introduced March 29, foreign airlines have been allowed to fly just one flight a week to China while Chinese airlines have been limited to one flight a week to individual countries.
Delta intends to fly daily to Shanghai from Detroit and Seattle. United told employees it wants to fly daily from its San Francisco hub to Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai, and have a fourth flight from Newark to Shanghai. American Airlines has not disclosed plans.
Delta and United wanted to start passenger flights to China in June. But timing on the Chinese side is unclear.
China Southern and its subsidiary Xiamen Airlines propose to increase flights on July 1, and China Eastern on September 1, all dates subject to regulatory approval, they disclaimed.
China this week said it would allow more international flights globally if the pandemic is under control. Charters will be increased as an initial step.
Shared commercial interests, provided health is looked after, may be more beneficial than bullying diplomacy. The U.S. last week accused China of violating flight capacity agreements, never mind the pandemic’s extraordinary circumstances
Countries including the U.S. imposed entry or travel restrictions due to COVID-19. China, seeking to curb imported virus cases, limited local and foreign airlines to one weekly flight per country
Delta and United are not being discriminated against. Chinese airlines cannot offer more flights either. Other carriers – Asiana Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Qatar Airways – also plan to grow flights to China this summer and would need the one weekly cap ended.
The number of China-U.S. flights the Chinese airlines proposed almost matches last summer’s schedule.
The airlines could be over-estimating so they can later cut back instead of facing any challenges if they want to add flights.
But the schedules are not an exact mirror, suggesting there is strategy for post-coronavirus travel.
China Southern will use smaller aircraft, taking its A380 off Los Angeles and deploying 787s instead of bigger 777s on flights from Guangzhou to New York and San Francisco. China Eastern’s west coast flights, flown last year by 777s, could instead be flown by A330s, it said.
China Eastern’s Chicago flights will be slightly increased, according to the tentative plan, while China Southern will reduce Los Angeles flights in late August, and pull back some New York flights in early September.
The airlines are known to be bullish. Another factor is an expected medium-term shortage of cargo capacity. Higher cargo revenue could offset passenger fares.
Xiamen Airlines does not plan to resume Seattle flights while China Eastern does not plan service to Honolulu or Saipan.
Air China, Hainan Airlines, and Sichuan Airlines did not state future plans.
China excluded the U.S. from a small group of European and Asian countries it is establishing a “green channel” charter program that would allow international charters and expedite approval.
The one weekly flight limit has precluded Chinese nationals from returning home given the shortage of capacity. The green channel charters could help Chinese citizens in some of those countries, such as the U.K.
Other nations in the charter program, like Japan and South Korea, have brought the virus under control and are looking to re-start their economies with major trading partners like China.