15 February 2009

Transpacific Air Travel Options: Korean Air and Asiana

Continuing our series of "how do I get home from Guangzhou, now that Northwest is dropping service?", we discuss the availability of flights through South Korea. You are permitted to take your child through Seoul's Incheon Airport on her Chinese passport with US visa, as long as you have a same-day connection and don't leave the secure zone.

This is good news for adoptive families, as Seoul (airport code ICN) offers excellent coverage to both the US and Canada. Strong business ties between Korea and China have also led to frequent services covering many cities.

The two long-range carriers based in Korea are Korean Air (airline code KE)and Asiana (airline code OZ).  KE is the bigger and older of the two.

Korean Air is a significant member of the SkyTeam alliance and has strong operational ties to partner Delta Air Lines, so you can earn SkyMiles or WorldPerks miles. KE has aggressively added service to North America, opening up markets such as Las Vegas, and serving Los Angeles four times a day. KE offers two departures from Guangzhou, which connect to the North American cities shown on this map. (KE also flies to Washington Dulles as well as Dallas/Ft. Worth, but you can't make those on a same-day basis from Guangzhou.)
KE then offers onward connections in North America with SkyTeam codeshare flights on Delta or Northwest.

Flying into China is a little more complicated depending on what North American gateway you would be coming from. The early-morning departures out of LAX, Las Vegas, Toronto, and New York JFK offer the broadest range of same-day connections. Flights from Atlanta, Chicago, Honolulu, San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver arrive Seoul later in the day, when most departures to China have already left, although you can make good connections to Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan, Kunming, and Shenyang. Otherwise, you could opt to spend a night at the airport hotels and then catch morning flights to the other cities shown on the map.

Korean companies have significantly invested in nearby Shandong, Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang provinces, so not surprisingly KE and OZ put most of their aircraft into those cities. Not too many adoptive kids come from the Northeast, however. KE does have morning flights to Changsha in Hunan, and afternoon flights to Wuhan in Hubei and Kunming in Yunnan, so that does help some of you.

As of the time of this posting, I have not been able to get a press contact to answer my questions about adoption fare availability. 

For a sample short-notice routing, however, the "everyday" fare is reasonable. KE's website gave me a fare of $1081 roundtrip, leaving LAX on March 7 and returning March 22.

Unlike some other airlines, you cannot book an open-jaw routing on KE's website, so you'll need to phone them to make a reservation.

Contact info:
Phone: 800-438-5000

Asiana Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance, so you can earn United Mileage Plus points with them (Air Canada, US Airways likewise). They do not reach as many North American destinations, nor do they offer the frequency of Korean Air. However, if your child is coming from Zhejiang or Jiangsu, OZ offers service where KE does not.
Here too, not every North American city Asiana flies from has even service to/from China. Families traveling from Vancouver (actually on an Air Canada codeshare) don't make all the possible outbound connections on the same day, so would require an overnight stay in Korea.

Asiana also reaches San Francisco and Seattle, but you can't make a same-day connection going home from Guangzhou, so that's why they don't appear on this map:
Asiana likewise has not replied to my questions about adoption fares. However, on the same LAX-Guangzhou roundtrip routing I used for Korean Air above (leave March 7, return March 22), OZ quotes a fare of $909 - more than $100 cheaper than KE.

The OZ website also does not support open-jaw routings, so you'll need to call their reservations desk.

Contact info:
Phone: 800-227-4262

The option of flying through Korea has good potential depending on where specifically you will be meeting your child. Fares are good compared to the Japanese carriers, and more cities in China as well as North America are reached with just one connection. If more kids were coming from Northeastern provinces, KE and OZ would likely be a first-choice for many parents. However, with both of these carriers, where you are coming from and where you are going will make a big difference.

11 February 2009

Transpacific Air Travel Options: Hainan Airlines

Second in our series of airline profiles for China adoption trips is a relatively new carrier across the Pacific, Hainan Airlines. Hainan (airline code "HU") only started service to the US in June 2008, flying between Beijing and Seattle.

This airline is relatively young - starting in 1993 - and flies a modern Boeing, Airbus, and Embraer fleet. They are the #4 domestic carrier in China and cover all the major cities with a robust schedule, award-winning service, good safety record, and competitive pricing. It is entirely possible some of your city-to-city transportation in China will be on this carrier.

Of keen interest to adopting families is the excellent schedule offered in both directions. Flight HU 496 leaves Seattle at 1:20 pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday (plus Friday, beginning in April) and arrives Beijing at 4:35 pm, with plenty of time to make connections to 16 other cities, including Hangzhou, Xi'an, Haikou, Taiyuan, and Guangzhou. This is great for families who are pressed for time or money, and want to proceed directly to their child's adoption city, skipping the tourism break in Beijing. (And if you do want to stay in Beijing for a few days at the beginning of the trip, well, you're right there!)

Coming home, the 8:30 am out of Guangzhou connects with plenty of time to make HU 495, which leaves Beijing at 4:20 pm and arrives Seattle at 11:40 am (again, four days a week.) The Seattle run uses a brand-new Airbus A330-200 with seat pitch of 32" in Economy - which is the same as you'd encounter on Northwest. All seats have an inflight entertainment system with 50 video channels and 50 audio channels, plus games. Both Chinese and Western meals are served inflight.

The Seattle timing is perfect for clearing Customs and making onward flights to the whole West Coast, as well as key cities in the Midwest and East Coast.

(EDIT: The Summer/Fall 2009 westbound schedule is exactly the same as posted above. The eastbound flight now leaves at 2:00 pm, arriving Beijing at 4:40 pm. No change to connection availability.)
Hainan Airlines offers a very competitive everyday fare structure. I entered a sample itinerary on the airline's website out of Seattle for March 4 to Beijing, returning from Guangzhou March 21, and got a fare for under $1000. Hainan also offers through-ticketing via Seattle on Alaska Airlines, American, and Continental to select US and Canadian destinations, also with surprisingly good fares.

While this airline does not specifically offer an adoption-fare program, the quotes you'll find from their website for close-in dates definitely represent a bargain. I have talked with the airline's US General Manager, and he tells me they are in fact looking into setting up an adoption desk. They have received government approval to add service to Chicago and Newark, although with the current economic crisis, those new routes are on hold.

In summary, Hainan Airlines offers adoptive families good value for money and a quality product. Families whose kids hail from Zhejiang, Shaanxi, Henan, and Guangdong will also appreciate being able to fly to those provinces on a same-day connection if they wish to skip the Beijing stopover.

Contact information:
Phone: 888-688-8813 (US and Canada)

08 February 2009

Transpacific Air Travel Options: ANA-All Nippon

With Northwest Airlines pulling out of Guangzhou in March 2009, there will no longer be an American-flag carrier serving the city all adopting families leave from. I have been conducting research and contacting airlines' press offices for comment and suggestions; over the next few weeks I'll discuss some of the other options available.

Let's start with the Japanese carrier ANA - All Nippon Airways. Tokyo's Narita Airport is ANA's home base, which means no hassles regarding your new child's Chinese passport. ANA is a member of the Star Alliance, so earning miles on your United frequent flyer account is straightforward. And ANA serves a number of destinations in China, most importantly Guangzhou. ANA, not surprisingly for an Asian carrier, has a good reputation for service, and as an English-speaker, you will not have any problems.

When you look at the ANA timetable, however, connections out of Guangzhou back to America are slim. Only San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu can be hooked up.  From these three cities, going to China, connections can be made to Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing (except for L.A., which arrives too late to make the Beijing flight.) Click on the map below for an expanded view:
I ran airfares on a typical short-notice adoption routing: leaving San Francisco March 4 to Beijing, returning from Guangzhou on March 19. The total trip came to about $1600 per person. If you want to book a third seat coming back from China (which we highly recommend), expect to pay around $900 for the one-way. You'll have to call their reservations desk, as you cannot book a one-way ticket from China to the USA over their website.

The spokesman I've dealt with confirms that ANA does not offer special fares for adopting families. When you do get your placement date, you'll be paying the higher no-advance-notice fare.  With the current economic crisis, even the short-notice fares aren't too bad, but these do tend to go up in the summer months. And when the economy does get stronger again, prices will get even steeper.

The limited connections available with this carrier also mean you will have to spend at least one more night inbound to China - while a Beijing stopover is a great idea to help you with jetlag, and to see the sights before Placement Day, if you are trying to economize by flying directly to your child's provincial capital, ANA is not going to be your first choice.

Contact information:
Phone: 1-800-2-FLY-ANA (US 50 and Canada)