25 May 2010

In Beijing, the airlines have the hots for slots

Whoa there buddy, don't get too confident about that start date...

Stuck in Chicago O'Hare for a month?

While US carriers are finally increasing nonstop service to China, the process this year hasn't gone all that smoothly.

American Airlines was due to start Chicago-Beijing flights on April 24, and had been selling tickets since November. Delta Air Lines has been advertising Seattle-Beijing service to begin June 4.

Even though both countries' governments have authorized the services (years ago, in fact), the airlines also need permission from the Chinese air traffic authority to land and take off at specific times at Beijing. 

In American's case, the takeoff and landing slots they requested would have put their flight into Beijing at 1:55 pm, and out at 4:50 pm - very convenient. American never received the OK to use those particular flight times. But, they kept planning as if they were going to get them - all the way up to the day of the inaugural flight. Which they had to cancel.

The slots that American was approved for had the aircraft landing in Beijing at 2:20 am, and taking off at 4:20 am. Not exactly what you'd want if you were doing business in Beijing - or for trying to get a hotel room on your arrival.

American ended up canceling the flight for an entire month; today (May 25) is supposed to be the new launch date. And they're stuck with the 2:20 / 4:20 slots.

You can't always get what you want, either.

In Delta's case, the times they'd requested would have their Seattle run leaving Sea-Tac at 3:30 pm, arriving Beijing at 6:05 pm, and the return flight leaving Beijing at 1 pm, getting into Sea-Tac at 9:30 pm.

These schedules would have allowed passengers arriving into China excellent same-day connections on Delta's SkyTeam partner, China Southern, to dozens of domestic cities. More importantly, the eastbound flight would have been perfect for same-day connecting traffic from domestic Chinese cities - and for adoptive families, would have given them the option to take either of the first two Guangzhou-Beijing departures on China Southern.

The 9:30 pm arrival in Seattle would have hooked up with the "red-eye" runs leaving there after midnight bound for Delta's other hubs at Minneapolis, Atlanta, Detroit, and Memphis, saving families the expense of a hotel room somewhere on the way home.

The requested slots were also a clever bit of engineering for Delta, in that they could use their aircraft coming in from Seattle to turn around to make a run to Tokyo, with the inbound Tokyo flight turning around to head for Seattle. Their airplanes would spend less time on the ground and more in the air, making money.

You shouldn't be surprised to read that Delta's plans didn't go how they wanted, either. Delta's slots were assigned just over a week ago. Instead of arriving in Beijing at 6 pm, the actual arrival will be 11:40 pm. And instead of leaving Beijing at 1 in the afternoon, the departure will be 8:55 in the morning.

Comparing the two airlines, Delta came out better than American; the eastbound arrival into Seattle will now be 5:30 am, so travelers can clear Customs and make all the morning flight banks to both coasts and all Delta's hubs. But Delta still doesn't have a chance of connecting to Chinese domestic flights inbound or outbound, and flyers going through Beijing are still stuck with an overnight stay in each direction.

And now once again I'll have to modify the weninchina.com Transpacific Flight Options page...

05 May 2010

United and Continental to merge; no difference for adoption travel

By no means a surprise, the long-awaited completion of merger talks between fellow Star Alliance members United and Continental was announced last week. 

While the combination will take some time for regulatory approval - and then more time to actually go about the process of splicing the companies together - as far as Asian travel goes, you won't see much difference for many years.

Both carriers are in the same alliance, so you have already been able to earn frequent flier miles on either airline. Both carriers already cooperate on Transpacific flights, and coordinate arrivals and departures at Tokyo and Beijing with their fellow alliance partners All Nippon and Air China.

Also, no new routes to Asia in general (except for some tweaks to Tokyo) - or China in particular - are expected to come out of this deal. United has again pushed back its San Francisco - Guangzhou service by another year, there's no indication they'll be resuming the Washington DC - Beijing route. There are simply not enough long-haul airplanes in the combined fleet to do any more Pacific flying than they already do, until later this decade, when the new United will start receiving Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 long-haul super-efficient widebodies.

So for foreseeable future, this news should not impact your adoption travel plans one bit.