Awesome: Air China To Begin Flying Between Houston & Panama City

Filed Under: Air China

Air China wants to begin flying 2x weekly between Houston and Panama City using a Boeing 777-300ER as of March 29, 2018. How random/cool is that? This is per an airline filing with the US Department of Transportation.

This new route would be a continuation of their exiting flight between Beijing and Houston, CA995 and CA996. Air China presently operates flights between Beijing and Houston 5x weekly, though initially they only intend to operate the tag flight 2x weekly, on Fridays and Sundays. The new flight between Houston and Panama City isn’t yet on sale, as the route is still pending DOT approval (though I can’t imagine they’ll have any issues).

Air China should be able to add this tag flight while only having to modify their current schedule between Beijing and Houston by a few hours. That’s because the flight between Beijing and Houston has 9hr20min on the ground in Houston, based on the current schedule:

CA995 Beijing to Houston departing 3:00PM arriving 3:40PM
CA996 Houston to Beijing departing 1:00AM arriving 4:50AM (+1 day)

The flight between Houston and Panama City would cover a distance of ~1,770 miles in each direction, so presumably that would be about a four hour flight in each direction. Given that the US doesn’t allow sterile transit, passengers would have to clear immigration in the US, even if they’re just flying between China and Panama (that makes me wonder how much sense this route makes, given the challenges of US transit). Since the plane presently has so much ground time in Houston, presumably it would only need to be moved around by a few hours in order to accommodate this route.

If approved, Air China will have fifth freedom rights between Houston and Panama, meaning you can book them exclusively between those two cities. Air China’s 777-300ER is a pretty comfortable way to get between Houston and Panama! These planes have eight first class suites, each featuring direct aisle access. I’ve reviewed Air China’s 747-8 first class, which is similar, for an idea of what to expect.

Then Air China’s 777-300ER business class features 42 fully flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. I’ve reviewed this product before.

This would represent the fourth fifth freedom route operated by a Chinese airline to Latin America. Presently China Southern flies from Guangzhou to Vancouver to Mexico City, Air China flies from Beijing to Montreal to Havana, and Air China flies from Beijing to Madrid to Sao Paulo.

Panama City is a surprising destination for Air China. You wouldn’t think the demand would be that huge, though I suspect part of the motivation is that Panama is a Copa hub, and they’re also part of the Star Alliance. So Air China would presumably intend to use this as a gateway to Latin America, including Central America and Northern South America, which can otherwise be somewhat tough to get to.

Still, I’m not sure how much passengers would really come out ahead here. They’ll have to clear immigration in the US before continuing to Panama, so this won’t be a quick journey.

I’ll post again once the flight goes on sale, as I’m curious what kind of fares they publish for those looking to travel exclusively between Houston and Panama.

What do you make of Air China’s new proposed route?

  1. PRC just established diplomatic relationship with Panama in 2017. I assume this is for diplomatic reasons.

  2. Given that they are only tagging on Friday to Sunday, I wonder if their goal is actually to target passengers travelling IAH-South America, as I’m sure CM would gladly provide them feed. Also, I wonder if this prevents any other Chinese airline from launching PEK-PTY.

  3. Actually it makes some sense. Chinese citizen only need a used US/Canadian visa to enter Panama, since the route will stop in IAH and every Chinese citizen on this flight has to use the US visa before they get to the Panama, therefore the requirement will be met. Also there are some sizable trade between China and Panama, so this tag on actually makes some sense.

  4. @leol Actually there are many Chinese in Panama even before Chinese government establish the formal diplomatic relationship. I went to Panama in a couple of years ago from US, however on both flights I do see a handful fellow Chinese passengers on board. Also the flights I took does not have the right timing for connection to China so I was surprised by that.

  5. Not surprising since the Chinese are building the Nicaraguan canal to compete with Panama canal. Perhaps some extra business traffic in the region to justify the route (not to mention general increased increase by the Chinese with Latin America)….

  6. Tried dozens of airlines in first class (haters gonna hate) My experience with Air China was not the best. Poor food selection on board and the Lounges offered are a joke

  7. There is a large Chinese community in Panama. A lot came during the early 20th century to build the Panama Canal.

  8. Now the question begs… what is the best Star Alliance award chart for F from US to C.A?

    The major ones for a One-way:

    40k with UA
    70k with AV (ouch)
    42.5k with AC
    42.5k with LH

  9. All part of the bigger plan the Chinese have for global domination.
    I find it somewhat revolting that they are present in every part of the world.

  10. @lucky what do you think about the Cape Town Water Crisis? I’m going there in July and I’m not sure what I should do.

  11. @rf
    Not really as most Americans dont own a passport.
    And if they are present when im travelling I just sit back and watch with great amusement the self entitlement they exhibit.
    This usually leads to all sorts of problems and its very entertaining as most are uneducated and badly travelled.

  12. I think it’s more a geopolitical move . China has been consolidating in Latin America at faster rate occupying spaces the US had abandoned .

    Same for the TK IST-HAV-CCS-IST .. Cuba and even less Venezuela with the disastrous economic conditions are able to fill an A330, so will very interesting to understand the real reasons for these flights

  13. @Number1

    I can assure you the feeling is reciprocated towards the skill-less Americans teaching English in China.

  14. Maybe there’s enough demand for cargo between China to Panama to justify the route even if there’s little pax demand.

  15. Panama just shifted their diplomatic stance from ROC (Taiwan) to PRC 2017, I believe the motive here is alot have to do with diplomatic relations.

  16. OMG! I know you like ‘presently’, you seem to use it a lot, but three of them in this short article. Wow!

    Some people take ‘presently’ to mean ‘soon’ or ‘about to happen’ and understand that it does not mean ‘at present’.

    Try ‘currently’, for a change, if for no other reason. 🙂

  17. In the 80’s, KLM and Air France had IAH-MEX tag on with fifth freedom traffic routes. South African Airways flew to IAH, too. Executive Air Link flew Bell 222 then Bell 206 Long Ranger helicopters to IAH from Greenway Plaza, Park Ten, Town and Country, Marriott Astrodome, downtown, and maybe other helipads. Those were the days.

    The Marriott Astrodome is now demolished as is either Town and Country or Park 10. The Summit at Greenway Plaza is gone and converted. Executive Air Link is gone. South African doesn’t fly to IAH anymore. Of course, there’s now the international terminal and Terminal E.

  18. Not sure United will be happy with this. They own this route with fares usually north of $1000. Curious to know what they will charge for this route.

  19. Makes sense. United, Copa, and Air China are all Star Alliance, so this complements the Latin American shuttles between superfortresses at IAH and PTY.

    There isn’t enough Chinese traffic to warrant nonstop Latin America service, hence no Air China presence in Mexico (plus, Hainan already got that covered with PEK-TIJ-MEX, on top of Aeromexico’s SHA-TIJ-PEK).

  20. ^ @Tom, no you cannot stay on the plane in Houston.

    from above: There is a large Chinese community in Panama. A lot came during the early 20th century to build the Panama Canal.

    They are not the same kind of Chinese. Some of them are more traditional, not like the mainlanders. Some of them support the Republic of China

  21. @Alvin – no, you’re absolutely incorrect. United receives absolutely no revenue if a person books on Air China for the Houston – Panama City segment instead of on United. They will absolutely not be happy about this, and will probably not be very cooperative (they won’t put their code on the flight, etc). Just because they’re star alliance doesn’t meant they will cooperate.

    I don’t think that Copa is eager to funnel passengers to this flight either. their flights are already full enough, and accepting a lot of traffic from this flight would simply displace what is probably high fare traffic for which they get all the revenue themselves.

    In short, I don’t think either United or Copa would do much to help this tag flight.

  22. It’s a diplomatic flight… panama established relations with PRC instead of Taiwan late last year. Lots of Chinese and Asians in Panama…

  23. @number 1,

    And what nationality/ethnicity are you? I’m sure there is something that “stupid” and “uncouth” Americans and Chinese can say about you too.

  24. @Jason

    Can you see many Asians booking United? Nope…I think more people will go to this Air China flight, if anything.

  25. Hey Ben,

    I don’t fly as much as you do neither am I a huge fan over American! Just wanted to ask you something! Is there really a thing for having 10 million miles with American like in the movie Up In The Air?


  26. I was just trying to book this flight to try out the Air China First Class but no flights are showing up and even on their website it doesn’t list Panama as a destination. What should I do as I’m eager to try this product.

  27. @Derek wow! I love those stories, being relatively new to the lovely US , every bit of the aviation story is a gem for me! Thanks for sharing.

  28. @Mitch Cumstein Cool! I really like to do that too! could you share more details? like if it was with miles or a revenue ticket? Thanks!

  29. @Mitch Cumstein Now I read it was an award ticket, I just can’t find the route anywhere, I’m interested just in the 5th freedom leg (IAH-PTY) but even tried PEK-PTY and is not showing anywhere.

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