Chinese airlines restart direct flights to UK after 18-month pandemic hiatus
Published: Aug 11, 2022 10:44 AM Updated: Aug 11, 2022 10:35 AM
Beijing airport Photo: VCG

Beijing airport Photo: VCG

Air China restarted direct flights between Beijing and London on Thursday, according to the company's booking platform, the first carrier in China to resume services after an 18-month hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In addition, Air China will restart flights from Shanghai to London from Saturday, according to its booking platform.

Other Chinese airlines are also following suit. China Eastern Airlines said it will restart services from Shanghai to London on Friday, while China Southern Airlines said on Thursday that it will fly from Guangzhou to London starting August 17.

Data from flight information provider VariFlight showed that, so far, there are four Chinese airlines restarting services to the UK - Air China, China Eastern, China Southern and Capital Airlines - with flights departing from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Qingdao, East China's Shandong Province. 

But these direct flights between China and the UK are all one-way outbound flights, and the airlines have not yet announced information on inbound flights.

Data from travel platform said that searches for direct flights between China and the UK on Wednesday nearly doubled compared with the previous day, and the number of bookings increased by 32 percent compared with the previous day. 

As for fares, a one-way ticket is around 13,000 yuan ($1,928) for economy class from Shanghai to London on Friday via China Eastern.

On Wednesday, the UK Embassy in Beijing said on its official WeChat account that the Department for Transport of the UK had reached a consensus with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to resume two-way direct passenger services between the UK and China.

The embassy said that passengers can also choose transfer flights via a third country. 

In December 2020, amid two new COVID-19 variants in the UK, in order to prevent the spread of the virus, many countries introduced measures on flights to and from the UK.

On December 24, 2020, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry, said that China would suspend round-trip flights between China and the UK, while the CAAC said China would suspend flights between China and the UK from December 28, 2020 to January 10, 2021.

On January 10, 2021, the CAAC said that China would continue the suspension.

During the suspension, travelers needed to transfer through a third city. For example, China Southern Airlines' booking app showed that the trip from Guangzhou to London required a transfer in Paris, with the whole journey taking 16-27 hours.

After the resumption of direct flights on August 17, Guangzhou-London will only take around 11 hours.

Outbound international passenger flights are likely to grow by more than 200 percent month-on-month in August, VariFlight data showed.

The CAAC has adjusted its "Five One" policy, which allowed Chinese carriers to operate only one outbound flight per week on one route to any country, and foreign airlines to operate just one flight a week into China.

Starting from Sunday, any flight with five detected COVID-19 cases will be suspended for one week if the confirmed cases account for 4 percent of all those onboard, and for two weeks if such cases account for 8 percent, the CAAC said.

Previously, flights with more than five but fewer than 10 confirmed cases were suspended for two weeks.

Data from the CAAC showed that China had a total of 279 international routes as of the end of 2021, a decrease of 70.72 percent compared with 2019 just before the pandemic.