Airlines gear up to offer growing international flights in 2023
Published: Jan 08, 2023 08:32 PM
Photo: Li Hao/GT

Photo: Li Hao/GT

As flight CZ312 of China Southern Airlines from Toronto landed at the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, South China's Guangdong Province at 0:16 am on Sunday, China officially entered a new phase in its response to COVID-19 as it largely removed entry restrictions. 

It was the first inbound international flight after the official border reopening on Sunday, and CZ312 passengers and cabin crew were the first group who didn't need nucleic acid testing or undergo quarantine, put in place in 2020. 

"I am so happy I can go directly back home, and there's no more need for quarantine," a passenger surnamed Gong said. 

From Guangzhou to Beijing and from Shanghai to Chengdu, the reunion pleasures are being shared by travelers around the country. 

In Beijing, CX 334 of Cathay Pacific landed at Beijing Capital International Airport on Sunday, marking the first inbound flight for Beijing, followed by the first international inbound passenger flight by Air China from Warsaw, Poland. Beijing Capital International Airport was expected to receive 10 international and regional flights on Sunday.

In Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, eight inbound passenger flights were expected at the Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport. 

Air China said that from Sunday, 17 international flights would land at Beijing directly, instead of being diverted to other mainland cities. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said that Beijing could be the first city for planes to land from Sunday. 

The shift in policy is part of the measures taken by the central government to lift travel bans, including cancelling inbound quarantine for international arrivals, scrapping the "Five-One" policy and cancelling the 75 percent ceiling for flight passenger capacity.

Since the implementation of the "Five-One" policy at the end of March 2020, China has had no more than 134 weekly overseas scheduled flights, from 61 cities in 40 countries outside China, according to the joint prevention mechanism of the State Council in April 2020.

At the end of December 2022, number of international flights was only 8 percent of 2019 levels, information provider VariFlight told the Global Times. 

The shift of policy has immediately triggered an outburst of outbound travels, with the airlines vowing to add international flights to cope with the rising demand. 

China Eastern Airlines plans to increase international passenger routes to 48, with 184 flights in January. The carrier said the resumption of international flights requires a preparation process, and it is intensively gearing up efforts. 

China Southern Airlines said the total number of weekly scheduled flights for outbound routes will reach 373 during the Spring Festival travel rush, which will last for 40 days till February 6.

Other airlines made similar decisions, such as Spring Airlines, which said that it will resume daily services from Shanghai to Phuket from January 18. The route from Guangzhou to Chiang Mai will resume from January 18. Juneyao Air said that starting from January 18, it will resume international passenger flights from Shanghai to Chiang Mai.

The border reopening gives a shot in the arm to market confidence, dampened for the past three years. The CAAC said that this year, it aims to return to 75 percent of the 2019 level in terms of flight market performance.

Industry analysts said that the recovery of international routes is not moving very quickly, hindered by some countries' disturbances, with some countries and regions tightening visa requirements for Chinese tourists.

Japan had more stringent PCR test requirements starting from Sunday targeting travelers from China with additional measures requiring negative test results taken within 72 hours of passengers boarding direct flights from China, according to media reports.

EU countries agreed on Wednesday to "strongly encourage" a proposed requirement that would obligate all travelers from China, regardless of nationality, to present negative COVID-19 tests, Euronews reported on Wednesday.

The total number of international flights has been at a low level for a long time during the pandemic, and domestic airlines and airports still need time to adapt. 

It will also take time for consumers to rebuild confidence, Luo Chengzhao, an analyst from aviation data consultancy CADAS, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

There will be a recovery of 10-20 percent in the level of international flights in the current flying season, instead of explosive growth, Luo said, but starting from the next season, which begins in March, there will be a fast rebound.