China Air Links Dwindle as Asian Carriers Withdraw

written by Chris Frame | February 11, 2020

Singapore Airlines said on Monday that it is ‘rationalising’ services between Singapore and China with a series of additional flight suspensions announced. The decision comes amid the continuing impact of Coronavirus on travel to Mainland China.

Cancellations impact flights operated by Singapore Airlines and its regional subsidiary Silk Air. Affected cities include Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Chengdu and Chongqing with flights up to the end of March either suspended or significantly reduced.

Singapore Airlines Boeing 787 (Source: Rob Finlayson)

This follows the airline’s 7 February announcement that it will decrease its presence in Hong Kong, which is being impacted by a worldwide slump in air travel as health fears impact demand.

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However, while reducing its presence in China, Singapore Airlines has stopped short of pulling out of the country all together.

In a prepared statement the Changi Airport based carrier said: “The Singapore Airlines Group has had a long history of operating to China. There are still many Singaporeans working and living in China now, many of whom will still require connectivity between Singapore and China. As the national carrier, we will continue to maintain minimum connectivity to the key cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing for now despite the reduced demand.”

In neighbouring Malaysia, the state of Sabah has announced travel restrictions to people holding passports from the People’s Republic of China, while the state of Sarawak is restricting visitation from all citizens of China as well as anyone that travelled to China in the last 14 days.

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As such, flag carrier Malaysia Airlines has reduced its presence in Mainland Chinese airports. Impacted services include flights to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen and Hong Kong, with various cancellations and rerouting options available to affected passengers through to the end of February.

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific is among the hardest hit by Coronavirus, with a large number of flights cancelled and schedules reduced. The impact on the airline is severe, with Cathay asking its workforce to take three weeks voluntary leave during the passenger downturn.

The 73-year-old carrier has suspended all flights to Wuhan until 31 March, with around 90% of services to Mainland China shelved for the same period.

Of those remaining Chinese flights, the airline says it has temporarily modified the on-board service, with activities that include: “suspending trolley services in First and Business class and serving meals on a single tray, and providing a disposable snack bag in Premium Economy and Economy class.”

The airline is no longer offering physical amenities on Chinese-bound flights, with hot towels, pillows and blankets, in-flight duty-free and onboard magazines all axed for the foreseeable future.

Additionally, the airline has outlined enhanced cleaning and sanitation efforts across its network, which involve thorough aircraft disinfection and deep cleaning as well as increased cleaning efforts at airport lounges.

Hong Kong Airlines is in a similar position, with service suspensions covering the Mainland Chinese cities of Chengdu, Sanya, Hangzhou, Chongqing, Guiyang and Nanjing; while flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Haikou have been reduced to once daily.

Japanese carriers have shrunk their presence in Chinese cities, with Qantas’ One World partner Japan Airlines citing on its website a: “decrease in travel demand”, as well as the impact on: “flight and cabin crew who may have operated flights to Mainland China.”

Some flights to Beijing and Shanghai are suspended, while Tianjin, Guangzhou and Dalian routes are operating at a reduced frequency.

Additionally, Japan Airlines recently donated 3,000 protective clothing items to the Red Cross Society of China, with the company noting: “The JAL Group would like to send our sincere condolences to all who have lost loved ones and for those who have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak in Mainland China.”

Meanwhile Australian carrier Qantas suspended services to China on 9 February while Virgin Australia will perform its final service to Hong Kong on 2 March after the cancellation of its Sydney – Hong Kong route which the airline says is: “no longer a commercially viable route for Virgin Australia to continue operating.”

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