Air China resumes Beijing-Washington direct flights
Published: Nov 21, 2023 10:26 PM
File photo:Air China

File photo:Air China

A flight operated by Air China departed from Beijing on Tuesday, heading to Washington, marking the first direct flight from China to the US operated by a Chinese airline since the two countries further increased direct flights in the new round starting from November 9. 

The world's two largest economies agreed at the recent China-US leaders' summit to further increase  scheduled passenger flights early next year.

Flight CA817 departed from Beijing Capital International Airport at 12:35 am. Previously, United Airlines flight UA889 departed from Beijing Capital International Airport on November 13. These are the first direct flights under the new incremental round.

Direct flights between China and the US are expected to rise to 70 a week during the winter/spring season that began on November 9, from 48 in the previous season, with the equivalent round-trips increasing to 35 from 24. Market observers said that more direct flights will facilitate people-to-people exchanges and cross-border business activity, adding positivity to improved bilateral relations. 

Multiple Chinese carriers including Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines and Sichuan Airlines updated their China-US direct flight schedules in recent days. 

From November 9 to 11, Hainan Airlines sold more than 1,500 tickets for its newly added China-US direct flights, and the average flight passenger load factor is expected to reach 80 percent, the company said in a statement sent to the Global Times. 

Hainan Airlines will open a route from Beijing to Boston, as well as one from Boston to Beijing via Seattle, since November 26. This will mark Hainan Airlines' first China-US direct flights since the pandemic. 

"In the current market, there are more flights from China to the US West Coast compared with the East Coast….Due to the large number of overseas Chinese people, students and business personnel in the US East Coast especially in the state of Massachusetts, Hainan Airlines made the resumption of Beijing-Boston flights a priority," said the company. 

As China and the US have established closer links in a variety of areas including politics, economics and tourism, the flights will further bridge connectivity between people in both countries and become a bond for economic and cultural exchanges, it said. 

Tian Jiahe, senior analyst from flight information provider VariFlight, told the Global Times that the increase in flights will be conducive for people-to-people exchanges and closer business cooperation. 

The tourism market will also have a wider impact. Before the pandemic, about 518,000 Chinese tourists generated over $1.2 billion in tourism revenue for San Francisco annually, according to a US media report. In 2022, San Francisco received only 48,000 Chinese tourists and made revenue of $286 million, said the local tourism authority.  

Fares for China-US direct flights have declined. The one-way fare for Shanghai-San Francisco in November fell to about 6,000 yuan on Tuesday, from about 15,000 yuan at the beginning of 2023, the Global Times learned from online ticket booking platforms. Tian said that the continuous recovery of flights will drive down fares further.

"Due to a sudden increase of flights and relatively short preparation time for cross-border visas, the market demand has not been fully released yet," Li Qin, a ticketing agent from a comprehensive tourism platform, told the Global Times, noting that the fares will stabilize after short-term turbulence. 

In 2019, over 300 flights traveled between China and US each week, data from VariFlight showed. That means the current weekly number of 70 flights is just about 20 percent of the pre-pandemic era.

It is expected that 2024 will be an "explosive" period for the recovery of China-US aviation and business travel, industry insiders said.