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Star Alliance partner Air China is launching its new flight between Houston and Panama today, April 5, allowing US passengers to fly to the Central American nation and back on a Chinese airline. The route is a continuation of the airline’s existing Beijing – Houston route, which currently flies five times weekly from Beijing’s Capital airport (PEK) to Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH). The new route is an added segment to and from Panama City (PTY) twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays.

Flying between two nations on an airline of a third country is a rare occurrence, known as a fifth-freedom route — in other words, a flight operated by a foreign carrier between two foreign countries as part of service connecting those points to the airline’s home country.

Air China says in a statement that the new link to Panama is “a natural extension of the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road,” a reference to a modern-day version of the trade route that once connected China to Europe across Asia. The opening of the new route also follows recent free-trade negotiations between China and Panama, after the Central American country broke long-time diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 2017.

Air China also just opened a new direct flight between Los Angeles (LAX) and Shenzhen (SZX) in December 2017. Overall, Air China currently operates more than 200 weekly flights to 12 destinations within the Americas, including New York (Newark and JFK), Washington, Los AngelesSan FranciscoSan JoseHawaiiVancouverMontrealHavana and São Paulo.

The route is operated by a three-class Boeing 777-300ER with 8 first class, 42 business and 261 economy seats. Look for a review of the inaugural flight here on TPG later this week.

The flight schedule is as follows:

CA885 – Between Beijing and Houston on Thursdays and Sundays. All times are local.

  • Departure from Beijing at 07:40am and arrival in Houston at 08:20am
  • Departure from Houston at 10:50am and arrival in Panama City at 2:30pm

CA 886 – Between Houston and Panama City on Thursdays and Sundays. All times are local.

  • Departing from Panama City at 4:30pm arriving in Houston at 8:15pm
  • Departing from Houston at 01:00am the following day, and arriving in Beijing at 04:50am on the third day

Featured image of Air China Boeing 777-300ER y Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images

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