Air China is taking a different approach than other airlines to maintaining US flights in light of the Wuhan coronavirus, and the corresponding travel ban. Is their strategy kind of smart, or just downright strange, though?
Many airlines have cut flights between US & China
At this point we’ve seen many flights between mainland China and the US cut, especially as the US has added a new coronavirus travel ban.
On the most basic level, foreign nationals who have visited China in the last 14 days are no longer able to enter the United States, unless they’re the immediate family members of US citizens or permanent residents.
Understandably this has caused airlines to greatly cut back service. American, Delta, and United, are all cutting mainland China flights, and even China Eastern and Hainan Airlines have canceled many of their US flights as well.
Chinese airlines say that they’re doing this due to weak demand, while US airlines say they’re doing this due to a combination of weak demand and the safety of their crews.
Air China’s strategy for maintaining US flights
Air China doesn’t seem willing to completely give up US flights. The airline currently flies to six US destinations — Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, New York JFK, San Francisco, and Washington.
The airline has filed with the US Department of Transportation to request the right to operate a total of just seven weekly frequencies to the US, but those would include four US cities. Air China wants to fly the following for a period of 180 days, using Boeing 777-300ERs:
- 4x weekly from Beijing to Los Angeles to San Francisco
- 3x weekly from Beijing to New York JFK to Washington
As the airline describes it, this is intended to maintain essential air connectivity between the US and China in the most economical way.
That’s an interesting approach, but it’s important to also point out the potentially huge logistical hurdles here. There are reports of immigration in the US taking six hours in some cases for those arriving from Asia (even those not coming from China).
I would assume passengers would be screened at the first US port of entry, rather than at the final destination, in which case the scheduling seems very difficult.
It’ll be interesting to see if this permission is granted, and if so, how the route does operationally.
This is a very different strategy than China Eastern is taking, for example, as they’re just suspending select routes and frequencies.
Air China seems to be doing everything they can to avoid cutting US flights altogether. I have to give them credit for coming up with an innovative strategy that allows them to maintain service without operating their entire network empty, though at the same time the logistics here seem really challenging.
If Air China does amend their routes as proposed, I’ll be very curious to see what kind of delays these flights face…
What do you make of Air China’s strategy for maintaining US flights?