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?