United Airlines may resume limited China flights, the first suspended due to the coronavirus

Apr 6, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

United Airlines is considering resuming limited passenger service to Shanghai as China begins to recover from the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Star Alliance carrier is “looking at the possibility” of resuming once-weekly service to Shanghai Pudong (PVG), United senior vice president of flight operations Bryan Quigley told pilots in a memo on April 4 viewed by TPG. The airline suspended all service to Shanghai in early February as the COVID-19 outbreak spread.

United would likely reconnect its Pacific gateway in San Francisco (SFO) with Shanghai if it resumes service, TPG understands.

Get Coronavirus travel updates. Stay on top of industry impacts, flight cancellations, and more.

Forbes first reported that the airline was evaluating resuming passenger flights to China.

United’s possible return to China is a sign that there is hope for the ravaged airline industry on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis. The load factor, or percent of seats filled, on flights in China rose above 60% at the end of March after loads fell as low as 40% the month before, according to International Air Transport Association (IATA).

“China is now returning to work and relaxing domestic travel restrictions,” IATA chief economist Brian Pearce wrote on March 27. “We’ve seen a slow resumption of domestic air services… [and] passenger confidence is returning too, albeit slowly.”

Related: It may be years until passenger demand returns to 2019 levels for US airlines

The Chinese government closely controls air service and has put strict limits on international flights. Chinese carriers are limited to one route with just one weekly flight per country, while foreign airlines are limited to just one weekly flight.

Air China and China Southern Airlines continue to fly to Los Angeles (LAX), and China Eastern Airlines to New York John F. Kennedy (JFK).

Prior to the coronavirus, United was the largest U.S. carrier to China. The airline offered up to 10 daily flights to the country, including one to Chengdu (CTU), four to Beijing Capital (PEK) and five to Shanghai.

Whether the carrier resumes all of its flights to China is an open question. The industry remains in triage slashing flights from their schedules, most recently to the New York area, with demand for air travel near zero. Airlines are likely to reevaluate their entire route maps when they emerge from the crisis with expectation that they will cut flights and some superfluous flying as they retrench to their cores.

Related: How will airlines rebuild their route maps after the coronavirus?

For example, United may decide it does not need to serve Shanghai from Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Los Angeles, Newark (EWR) and San Francisco with the latter route flown twice daily.

Wall Street analysts have forecast that U.S. passengers numbers will be at least 20% below 2019 levels next year.

United is flying just six long-haul international routes in April. The airline is connecting Frankfurt (FRA), London Heathrow (LHR) São Paulo (GRU), Sydney (SYD), Tel Aviv (TLV) and Tokyo Narita (NRT) to its Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH), Newark and San Francisco hubs.

Related: United extends elite status for all Premier members and more

Featured image courtesy of United Airlines.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.