In early February I first wrote about how Air China filed with the US Department of Transportation requesting the right to operate a 2x weekly flights between Houston and Panama City. This flight would be operated by a Boeing 777-300ER, and was expected to launch on March 29, 2018. This route would be a tag to Air China’s existing Beijing to Houston flight, and as a result they’ve adjusted the schedule to make space for this flight.
Air China’s new flight to Panama is now official, and will be launching as of April 5, 2018.
Air China’s current flight between Beijing and Houston operates 5x weekly with the following schedule:
CA995 Beijing to Houston departing 3:00PM arriving 3:40PM
CA996 Houston to Beijing departing 1:00AM arriving 4:50AM (+1 day)
Going forward, they’ll operate the flight with the following schedule on Thursdays and Sundays:
CA885 Beijing to Houston departing 7:40AM arriving 8:20AM
CA885 Houston to Panama City departing 10:50AM arriving 2:30PM
CA886 Panama City to Houston departing 4:30PM arriving 8:15PM
CA886 Houston to Beijing departing 1:00AM arriving 4:50AM (+1 day)
All passengers will have to clear customs in the US so obviously they want to leave enough time for that. The 2hr30min on the outbound seems like a reasonable layover, though the 4hr45min layover on the return isn’t terribly practical, if you ask me. I get that they probably can’t leave for Beijing any earlier, though ideally they’d increase the amount of time the plane spends on the ground in Panama, rather than increasing the amount of time the plane spends on the ground in Houston. My guess is that this is due to crewing, and because the same crew will operate the roundtrip flight from Houston to Panama City.
The flight between Houston and Panama City covers a distance of ~1,770 miles in each direction, and is blocked at 3hr40min southbound and 3hr45min northbound.
While the flight has now been loaded into the GDS, it doesn’t yet seem to be bookable through any online travel agencies, or even directly through Air China (they don’t recognize Panama City as a destination).
While Air China doesn’t really have a globally competitive product, this is unarguably the best premium cabin experience you can have between the US and Central America. Air China’s 777-300ERs 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.
There doesn’t seem to be award availability on these flights as of now, but once there is (and I bet there will be), here are the general options you have (award costs are one-way, and I’m not including LifeMiles since they don’t have access to Air China awards):
- Air Canada Aeroplan: 20,000 miles economy, 30,000 miles business class, 42,500 miles first class
- Singapore KrisFlyer: 17,500 miles economy, 30,000 miles business class, 40,000 miles first class
- United MileagePlus: 17,500 miles economy, 30,000 miles business class, 40,000 miles first class
Based on looking at published fares on these flights (not including taxes and fees), the lowest roundtrip fares as of now are as follows:
- Economy: 525USD
- Business: 1,950USD
- First: 6,650USD
If these are actually the fares they think they can charge long term then they’ve lost their minds. However, my guess is that we’ll see them lower fares over time, as I suspect the load factor on this flight will be abysmal.
While this route is unique, it isn’t the first tag flight to Latin America on a Chinese airline. 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.
Does anyone have plans to take Air China’s new flight to Panama?