Hainan’s U.S. Expansion Continues — This Time Out Of Chongqing

Filed Under: Hainan

As I’ve explained before, China’s aviation policies are a bit odd. The country has a rule where only one Chinese airline can operate any individual longhaul route. Given the pace at which Chinese airlines are growing, this is causing many of them to scramble in order to launch routes before their competitors do.

Hainan’s recent attempt at U.S. expansion out of Chengdu

Hainan Airlines is based in Beijing, but early last year they launched flights between Los Angeles and Changsha. That’s because Air China already operates a flight from Los Angeles to Beijing, so Hainan can’t replicate it. So instead Hainan’s U.S. destinations out of Beijing include cities like Boston, Las Vegas, San Jose, and Seattle, since Air China doesn’t fly to those cities.

In early December, Hainan Airlines filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation to request the right to operate new flights from Chengdu to both Los Angeles and New York. This was an interesting case of them trying to beat a competitor to the punch.

Specifically, Sichuan operates a flight from Chengdu to Los Angeles via Hangzhou, since they don’t have a plane that can operate the flight nonstop. Sichuan has even added an additional frequency via Jinan. However, Sichuan Airlines will soon be taking delivery of an A350, which they intended to use to operate the route nonstop.

But assuming this route for Hainan gets approved, Sichuan won’t be allowed to fly it, since Hainan beat them to the punch, simply because they had the right plane at the right time.

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Hainan wants to add U.S. flights out of Chongqing

This past week Hainan Airlines has filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation to request two more routes to the U.S. Hainan Airlines wants to launch nonstop flights from Chongqing to both Los Angeles and New York. Hainan wants to:

  • Fly from Chongqing to Los Angeles 8-9x monthly starting in the first quarter of 2017
  • Fly from Chongqing to New York 8-9x monthly starting in the second quarter of 2017

I’ll be curious to see if the Department of Transportation approves these new routes. They’re looking to launch the flights pretty soon, though it may take the DOT a while to decide. As far as I know the DOT hasn’t yet decided on the new Hainan flights out of Chengdu, and Hainan hasn’t added them to the schedule yet.


Why I’m excited about Hainan’s expansion

I flew Hainan Airlines last year from Los Angeles to Changsha and back, and had a fantastic experience. While I don’t love their hard product, the service and food were fantastic. Hainan is ranked as China’s only Skytrax 5-star airline, and in terms of the soft product they deserve it.

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Hainan’s business class meal service

But that’s not the only reason I’m excited:

Hainan-Airlines-Business-Class-787 - 79Hainan 787 business class bed

Bottom line

China’s aviation policies seem a bit self destructive to me. Many of the airlines are government owned, and they’re having to irrationally compete with one another. Rather than letting them compete directly on routes, they’re making them all have inefficient route networks that don’t maximize connection opportunities.

I realize this is perhaps intended to encourage service to secondary cities, and that’s fine. But long term this just doesn’t seem like a smart policy.

I’ll be curious to see if Hainan is granted the right to fly from both Chengdu and Chongqing to Los Angeles and New York.

  1. Is the award avaibility set to 2 ? Though is plenty but would not be suffice if traveling with family of 3 or more

  2. After living in China for two years, I wouldn’t risk flying with a connection in the country. The PLA controls the airspace in the country and will shut down routes without warning. Add in the trouble that comes when it rains and point to point is the best idea for China.

  3. At this point, I think the Chinese carriers are shooting first and asking questions later. I wonder how much of a kickback the local government is giving to Hainan to start this route? The mentality of the PRC is you build it, they will come. Look at all these ghost towns that are prevalent all around China. They built it and no one is coming. I wonder if the aviation sector is taking the same approach? We launch a route and people will take it.

  4. What happens to AA’s lax to pek route, they did not start it at all. It is silly that they fight over delta and won, but did not start. lax to pek keeps being monopolized by air china.

  5. That is pretty ridiculous that Hainan can essentially tie up an entire route by flying it twice a week. Looking forward to being able to fly to CKG nonstop, but a frequency of twice a week won’t be very helpful.

  6. @SG It’s China’s policy of one airline one route. The big 3 in China; MU, CZ, and CA all have the most desirable routes as they got into the game early. This doesn’t apply to US carriers. That’s why you see these other Chinese airlines starting new routes from secondary cities, and you’re left scratching your head wondering, “where’s the traffic coming from?”

  7. @Tony These might be secondary cities, but they are secondary cities on a Chinese scale. Chongqing is over 10 million people. That’s around 5 times the size of Houston, 3 Chicagos, or 2.5 Los Angeleses. These are massive cities, with lots of potential passengers.

  8. Correct you for the third (or maybe the fourth) time, it’s not “The country has a rule where only one Chinese airline can operate any individual longhaul route.”, but “The country has a rule where only one Chinese airline can operate any individual longhaul Sino-US route.” Stop making stupid mistakes dear Ben.

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