China Holiday Traffic Plummets; Flight Suspensions Extended

Passengers wear protective masks at Beijing Capital Airport.
Credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The Chinese Lunar New Year is traditionally one of the strongest periods for Chinese airlines, where millions of Chinese citizens travel across the country to return home for the festive season. 

However, because of the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus, passenger volume has plunged around 50% year-on-year (YOY) to around 6.5 million passengers over the one-week period.

The state council said in a press conference that load factors have dropped 51.2% YOY from 90% in 2019. Approximately 13 million passengers have exercised their options to use free ticket refunds and cancel travel plans. 

The Chinese government had extended the end of the holiday from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2, although some provinces have further expanded the start of the work week to Feb. 9. To prepare for workers returning to major cities, airports have implemented exit screenings to pick out passengers with a fever, although the study of many confirmed cases has suggested the symptoms would not appear until much later.

Airports will be imposing compulsory data entry to facilitate contact tracing, and all passengers are encouraged to wear masks on board flights. Airlines will also implement scattered seating assignments to allow for empty seats in between passengers. Other measures include disinfecting aircraft and airport facilities more frequently. 

As of Feb. 6, 11,511 out of 16,000 scheduled flights within mainland China were canceled. Similarly, 80 international carriers have 566 flights on the schedule; however, 76 airlines have suspended 558 flights to China.  

Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA) has further cut capacity to China, including Hong Kong. Flights to cities such as Dalian and Qingdao have either been downgauged or suspended; ANA will suspend Osaka-Hong Kong flights until the end of March. 

Air France said Feb. 6 it is extending the suspension of flights to Shanghai and Beijing until Mar. 15. It had previously suspended the services until Feb. 9.

“As from 16 March 2020, depending on the evolution of the situation, Air France and KLM plan to gradually resume operations to and from Shanghai and Beijing, alternating one daily flight to each destination,” Air France said in a statement. “In this way, Shanghai and Beijing will be served daily from Europe, via Paris by Air France or Amsterdam by KLM, depending on the day of operation. A normal flight schedule should be resumed as from 29 March 2020.”

The carrier also said resumption of flights to and from Wuhan, at the center of the disease outbreak, was scheduled for Mar. 29. 

Air France partner KLM has suspended flights to Chengdu, Hangzhou and Xiamen until Mar. 29 at the earliest, while Beijing and Shanghai flights are expected to resume Mar. 16. 

In the U.S., American Airlines on Feb. 6 said it is extending the suspension of its Los Angeles-Hong Kong flights through Mar. 27. The carrier’s Dallas/Fort Worth-Hong Kong flights are set to resume Feb. 21. United Airlines is suspending its Hong Kong flights from Feb. 8 through Feb. 20. United’s last returning flight from Hong Kong (Flight 862) will depart Hong Kong on Feb. 7. 

Chen Chuanren

Chen Chuanren is the Southeast Asia and China Editor for the Aviation Week Network’s (AWN) Air Transport World (ATW) and the Asia-Pacific Defense Correspondent for AWN, joining the team in 2017.

Helen Massy-Beresford

Based in Paris, Helen Massy-Beresford covers European and Middle Eastern airlines, the European Commission’s air transport policy and the air cargo industry for Aviation Week & Space Technology and Aviation Daily.