Cool: Nonstop Flights Coming Between Alaska & China

Filed Under: Air China, China Eastern

While we don’t have exact details yet, Alaska’s governor has announced that in 2019 there will be year-round direct passenger flights between Alaska (I would guess Anchorage) and Harbin, located in northeastern China.

What we know about the new Anchorage to Harbin route

The governor says that the deal comes after more than a year of negotiations between Alaska and China, as the state and the country try to strengthen ties with trade and tourism.

A flight from Anchorage to Harbin would cover a distance of 3,359 miles, meaning it would take just 6-7 hours in each direction. This would be the shortest nonstop flight between the US and China.

As of now an airline hasn’t yet been announced for the route, but rather some airlines are in “negotiations” for the service. It sounds like it will be a Chinese airline and not Alaska Airlines, though.

The Alaska governor says that a final agreement should be reached by the end of the year, so flights can launch in 2019.

Personally I wouldn’t take this as a sure thing until an actual schedule is filed, because these kinds of deals can always fall through. While it’s true that the distance between these cities isn’t huge, I still question the viability of such a route.

Which airline is most likely to launch this flight?

While it would be nice if a widebody aircraft with flat beds were used for the route, I think it’s much more likely that we’ll see a Boeing 737 MAX operate the route, since it has the range and much lower operating costs. China Southern seems like the most likely contender, given that they have the most international operations out of Harbin, including to Russia. China Eastern and Sichuan Airlines are the next biggest airlines out of Harbin.

Anchorage is such a fascinating hub to Asia & Russia

I’m so fascinated by Anchorage as a hub for westbound flights. Back in the day Anchorage was a huge hub for airlines flying between the US and Asia, given that it’s almost directly on the way for many flight paths. As we’ve seen the introduction of longer range aircraft, we don’t see any year-round commercial flights from Alaska to China or Russia, though plenty of cargo airlines still stop in Anchorage.

Back in the 1990s Alaska Airlines actually had several routes between Anchorage and Russia, which I find to be so cool. In a way I’m surprised the airline hasn’t continued operating any flights west from Alaska, but I guess the demand is fairly limited, and it’s the aviation geek side of my brain that gets excited by these routes.

More recently, we’ve seen seasonal summer service between Anchorage and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. This route has been operated once weekly in summers using a Yakutia Airlines Boeing 737. I imagine that must be a pretty interesting flight to take, and at under 2,000 miles it’s shorter than a US transcon flight.

What do you make of this new route between Alaska and China, and do you think it will actually come to fruition? 

(Tip of the hat to Anchorage Daily News, featured image courtesy of N509FZ)

  1. I am not surprised, given how these Chinese airlines have been expanding to the US left, right and center from every other secondary city in China. Almost every Chinese airline at least flies to LAX in the States.
    Anchorage seems like a weird destination from Harbin, Beijing… maybe?
    But Harbin sounds odd.

  2. Feel free to ask (insert any country) what kind of impact an influx of Chinese tourists has had.

    Spoiler alert: No one has anything positive to say, ever.

  3. Hmmm…could this become the transpacific Iceland?

    According to travel math Anchorage is between 7-9 hours from Beijing, Tokyo, Shanghai and Seoul. I believe this is beyond the range of current narrow body Long range aircrafts such as the A321lr. Operating long range aircrafts is critical for any carrier from Anchorage to truly disrupt the transpacific market the way Wow, Iceland or even COPA have done in their respective hubs.

    757s would easily fill the void however their operating costs are simply not competitive enough to pursue a Low cost model offering one stop connections to secondary US and North Asian destinations successfully.

    The A321xlr could be the answer however. I simply don’t get why Boeing has moved so slowly on the 757 replacement. An efficient single aisle long range jet just seems like a no-brainer.

  4. Has anyone on here ever been to Harbin? What is it like? When I fly to Korea we more often than not end up holding briefly above Harbin, and its such a fascinating city to look at from the air, especially in winter when everything is snow covered. There’s literally nothing but agriculture for miles in every direction, its like a medieval walled city rising from nothing. I know a lot of western tourists take the train from Vladivostok to Harbin a lot.

    I understand its a huge industry city, and this route actually makes sense because of that, with Anchorage being a huge logistical hub as well.

  5. @GuruJanitor – I went to Harbin a few years ago for the annual winter ice and snow festival. The festival itself was amazing to see and well worth the visit. The rest of the city; not so much. The winter air pollution was incredibly heavy, even worse than Beijing which is hard to imagine.

  6. I feel like that Tokyo-NRT is more likely than Harbin from ANC. NRT is only 80 miles longer than Harbin. And Alaska Air or ANA can opetate this with an A321neo (which they both have)

  7. @Louis We actually like having the Chinese visit and many businesses are hiring translators to help improve relations.

  8. As mentioned in the article, in fact, there were direct flights from Anchorage to China in the 90s! I distinctly remember being on an Air China flight from JFK to PEK in August 1995 that stopped in ANC. Not sure when that route stopped.

  9. I think it’s pretty cool too. I lived in Anchorage for a long time and was always surprised that we didn’t get more air traffic from overseas…at least seasonly during the summer. It’s always been a major hub for Fedex and UPS and we’ve had service form Condor to Frankfurt for awhile as well. Icelandair started service in the summer of 2013 I think. We would also have Air Force One and other DVs come through on their way to Asia because it was a straighter shot.

  10. More of a fan of a Alaska Airlines flight to somewhere in Japan. Sapporo or Tokyo, which makes some more sense from a Japan Airlines standpoint. Could turn into quite the feeder flight like someone mentioned with the Iceland effect.

  11. Back in the day, jumbo jet flights from Europe to Japan, Korea, etc. and vice versa were not permitted to fly through Soviet airspace because the Soviets didn’t have an equivalent aircraft. Therefore, all of those flights had to land in Anchorage for refueling before continuing to their destination.

    Passengers were offloaded into a crowded transit area with shops selling souvenirs and no opportunity to clear immigration. Because it was on American soil, I was able to make domestic long-distance phone calls from pay phones in this area.

    IIRC there were one or two flights between Europe and Northern Asia that used narrow-body aircraft and, thus, were permitted to fly over the Soviet Union and were non-stop.

  12. “Back in the day Anchorage was a huge hub for airlines flying between the US and Asia”

    Many European carriers also flew via ANC back in the 80s and prior… it was the only way to get to Japan.

    BA, AF, LH, SK, SN, KL, JL etc. all went via ANC. I would imagine you could add KE, CX and a few others to that list. KE also had 2 planes shot down by Russia back in the 80s.

    HKG and other destinations of that region routed via India / DXB / BAH

    Western Airlines (and I think someone else – perhaps Caledonian?) flew LGW-ANC-HNL

    China and the USSR were closed off, although I do recall Virgin flying to NRT via Moscow in the 90s as things started to open up since they only had 747-100/200s at the time without the range.

    Anchorage holds quite an important place in aviation history when it came to connecting Europe and the USA to Japan. Yes, Japan was everything back then!!.

  13. Anchorage started slowing as a waystation with the 747SP I believe. I recall flying JFK-NRT in 1980 on PanAm, I believe that was the only nonstop back then. Then as the SP started to get into more and more service the Asian and US carriers had less need for Anchorage and NRT became the major hub for accessing all of Asia from the US. This was back in the days with an upstairs lounge for First although that was starting to fade away too and Business Class was just starting. The routes available today are just amazing.

  14. That is right. I also remember before when CI would land and refuel in Anchorage with their JFK to TPE route. It was sad, in a way, to see the loss of Anchorage as a layover. Great for direct flight between TPE and JFK, but missed having those chances to purchase delicious smoked salmon and caviar.

    Nope @Childflyer. No one is crazy except for @Louis crazy comment. It was posted almost half a day ago. Thank goodness for his comment removal as it was utterly racist and despicable.

  15. Route would serve pretty much solely Chinese package tours.

    Chinese tourists are often clueless about where they go, be it Palau, Shizuoka, Sihanoukville, Minsk, Reunion, etc.
    An itinerary with mountains, glaciers, lumberjacks, bears, and (not kidding) clean air can be a convenient package. Throw in an outlet mall and traffic could double.

    Example: Guam and Saipan.

  16. “An itinerary with mountains, glaciers, lumberjacks, bears, and (not kidding) clean air can be a convenient package. Throw in an outlet mall and traffic could double.

    Example: Guam and Saipan.”

    Wow, thanks – I never knew that. The next time I’m in Guam, I’ll have to check out the glaciers and bears.

  17. Makes zero sense. Zero demand from Alaska (that is not even in the top 100 for Alaskans). Maybe Chinese will come but not sure why not much to see there and shopping is better in Beijing (or many other places that are warmer and closer). Maybe chicoms think it will be easier to bring spies in via ANC. Seriously this route makes no sense at all for anyone.

  18. It’s been almost a year. Does anyone have an update on this pending route?
    Flying from Anchorage directly to Asia would shorten my flying time substantially!

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