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Why the U.S.-China Market May See a 2024 Shake-up

There may be some major changes to the U.S.-China route market into 2024.

An Air China 777-300ER in Los Angeles (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

On November 22, Air China submitted an application to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to cut the Los Angeles stop on its current New York-JFK – Beijing flight. The flag carrier of China previously operated as many as 21 flights between New York and Beijing pre-pandemic and has resumed its New York JFK flight CA981/982 since May 2023 at a three times weekly frequency.

Starting in October, Air China added the Los Angeles stop in their New York – Beijing leg of the flight, amid weather and increasing occupancy considerations. The carrier’s application to remove the Los Angeles stop was made after the meeting between U.S. and Chinese leaders, during which they reaffirmed their commitments to significantly increase the air service level between the two countries.

New Challenge

Due to the unavailability of Russian Airspace, flight time between East Asia and North America has increased by nearly two hours, according to CNN. Sometimes, when facing strong west winds, flights from North America to East Asia may be forced to land and refuel in the middle.

There have been cases in which Cathay Pacific flights between New York and Hong Kong were forced to land at Taipei or Vancouver due to undesired weather and wind conditions. Under such circumstances, West Coast destinations of the United States are the first ones to resume flights to China, particularly due to its relative proximity to Asia and the ability to avoid Russian airspace.

Hope on the Horizon

As relationships between China and the U.S. improve, the hope of resuming flights between the two countries to pre-pandemic levels is on the horizon. However, the schedule may look a bit different.

The recovery of flights between the East Coast of the U.S. and China may be slower than that of the West Coast. The Russian airspace would likely remain unavailable until the tension between Russia and the Western world is released. Under that premise, operating flights between the East Coast and China may be challenging for the long distance flights need to detour to avoid Russian airspace. The operational cost of those flights may be significantly higher than they were before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with flight time well over 14 hours.

A Hainan 787 Dreamliner in Los Angeles (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

We indeed observed such a trend through the recent wave of flight resumptions. Air China resumed its Beijing to San Francisco flights two times weekly flights, along with United with daily flights from San Francisco to both Beijing and Shanghai; China Southern resumed flights between Wuhan and San Francisco, with once-weekly service; Delta also resumed its daily Seattle to Shanghai service.

East Coast destinations are also resuming their flights to China, however, not as much as those cities in the West Coast. Hainan Airlines resumed its Beijing to Boston flight HU729/730, however, on the return, flight HU730 will stop at Seattle to refuel and load more passengers; Air China resumed its Beijing to Washington Dulles flight CA817/818, and the return flight CA818 will stop at Los Angeles for the same reason.

What’s Next?

With promises from the leaders of both countries, we are certain that there will be a significant increase in flights between the U.S. and China in the coming months. Following the previous patterns, U.S. and Chinese carriers will likely have a similar amount of flights.

In terms of where airlines will fly, we still believe that the cities on the West Coast of the United States and eastern China will be given higher priority. The popular West Coast destinations, such as New York and Washington D.C., may be able to get daily flights to first-tier Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou with Chinese carriers.

United has been ambiguous about resuming service from Newark to Shanghai and Beijing, and with more opportunities still yet to be uncovered on the West Coast, the priority for Newark may not be on the top. Moreover, as U.S.-Europe routes largely thrive, there may not be any available slots at East Coast airports for additional China flights.

As carriers are still hesitant towards resuming flights from the eastern United States, more destinations from the western U.S. may get their chances. Cities such as San Diego, San Jose, and Las Vegas, previously have seen limited services to China, and now they may take over some frequencies from West Coast cities.

Lei Yan

Author

  • Lei Yan

    Lei is from Inner Mongolia, China, and now lives in Guangzhou. He grew up in an aviation family, where his passion began. During his time at Penn State University, he studied Industrial Engineering specializing in operations research, and he graduated with an honor’s thesis on airport gate assignment optimization. Now, he is a Purchasing Manager with Procter & Gamble. In his free time, he enjoys flying, reading, and wandering around the city.

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