United has suspended Hong Kong flights from Chicago following a number of American Airlines discontinued flights from the windy city. Why can't American carriers get Asia to work from Chicago?
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United suspends Hong Kong from Chicago
This week, United announced the suspension of Hong Kong flights from Chicago. Despite concerns that this shift may be in relation to the protests, United would not cancel such a serious route for a temporary problem. That is not to say that those with discretionary plans will not change them from Hong Kong for the time being, but protests did not spell the departure of the routes. While most of United's Pacific expansion was a result of purchased routes (aircraft and staff) from Pan Am in 1
The loss of the Hong Kong route is particularly disappointing due to. its historical nature. The route, which was added in 1996, was originally operated by a 747-400 was at one time the longest flight in the world with 7,788 nautical miles. United will operate a 777-200ER on the route until September 9, 2019, ending a 23-year run.
American Canceled almost All Asia Flights from Chicago
American Airlines, which also operates a hub in Chicago, cut flights to Shanghai, Beijing last year and reduced Tokyo flights to three times a week. American has a joint venture with Japan Airlines, which also serves Chicago. If it weren't for that business deal with route pacts, I wouldn't be surprised if the American left Asia all the way from Chicago.
American has found better luck operating from Dallas where they made flights to Seoul, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing over the last couple of years as they withdrew from Asian markets from Chicago including Delhi.
Foreign Carriers Can Make It Work
Many foreign carriers are capable of making Chicago routes work. At present, Cathay Pacific, Asiana, China Eastern, Eva, Korean and Japan Airlines fly to East Asia, with Turkish, Emirates, Royal Jordanian, Qatar, Etihad flying to West Asia / Middle East.
Some of these carriers have subsidies directly from the government. It will help overcome any shortage of routes. But American carriers are not without their own subsidies, they are just taking different forms. There's a lot to argue about that topic, but this isn't that post.
Origin and Destination Traffic
Many of them make use of connecting traffic with their United and American alliance partners to other points in the United States. But probably traffic links both ways with American travelers traveling for business and leisure to points beyond those partner cities and from points other than Chicago.
The answer, I think, lies in Origin and Destination Traffic (O&D.) Passengers who are just flying from Chicago to major cities in Asia are choosing Asian airlines. It is not difficult to find out why. Cathay Pacific has one of the best product class products flying, so much so that American Airlines licensed the seat for its 777-300ER flagship. United Polaris, which competed with Cathay on the Chicago route, did not offer their true Polaris product, and if they had, it still lags behind Cathay.
Asian carriers also have legendary service. It's not just a question of high-quality airline service from American carriers – many of the most experienced are flying the longest international routes. There are extras such as catering, things that the carriers such as American and United choose not to invest in the same respect as the foreign carriers. Look no further than Americans' awful attempt at "gnocchi" on the Hong Kong-Dallas route which was so bad that I gave up American Airlines and matched to United.
United can serve its Hong Kong-based customers from better R&D markets like San Francisco and Newark, with San Francisco being the best possible point for almost any connection (except Seattle or Anchorage.) American has more Dallas R&D traffic and owning Dallas-Fort Worth with over 94% of traffic and adding more; Connecting in Chicago was a distraction that lost the company's money. But it is surprising that American carriers do not seem to get Asia to work from the windy city.
What do you think? Why can foreign carriers get Chicago to work while US carriers struggle? Do you think that will change in the future? Should foreign carriers step up to fill the void?