Can you provide more context on fares to/out of China?

With the world watching the 2022 Winter Olympics in China, AIRINC have been inundated with questions about air travel to the region. Since March 2020, China has imposed strict travel restrictions on international arrivals to limit the spread of COVID-19. China has reduced the frequency of international passenger flights, limited visa availability, and imposed strict COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements before and after arrival in China. All restrictions have influenced airfare volatility. In 2020, people didn’t seem very concerned about such issues because the whole world was on a temporary hold. Now when international travel & business attempts some return to normal, China seems like an odd outlier.

What are the biggest challenges for airfare?

There are no flights. According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China, China cut international flights to just 2% of the volume it had before the pandemic

Passengers are strongly encouraged to take a direct flight to mainland China, but only some countries are entitled to support routes in/out of China with direct flights and usually it is only one airport per country and only one or two days per week. Also, only one layover is allowed for those traveling from a country that can't support a direct flight to China, and travelers must take a COVID-19 test in the layover location.

Europe: Currently, only a couple of countries in Europe can support a direct flight to China and these flights are available only on some days of the week. For example, all flights out of U.K. to mainland China are suspended until further notice. Netherlands has only two flights per week from Amsterdam to Shanghai and Amsterdam to Guangzhou. In Germany, only Frankfurt supports direct flights and only to Shanghai two times a week by Lufthansa and China Eastern, and once to Hangzhou. All flights come with notes that they are subject to change and announcements of flight suspension dates are common

U.S.: Most flights to and out of U.S. were suspended at the end of December  2021 and followed by further suspensions in January 2022. In the fall of 2021, direct flights were available from Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Detroit, San Francisco, and Seattle to mainland China. In December 2021, Chinese authorities suspended 44 flights operated by American airlines until the end of March 2022 after some passengers tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival. In January 2022, the Biden administration planned to suspend 44 flights from China operated by Chinese airlines. Before these cancelations, carriers were operating about 20 flights a week as opposed to more than 100 per week before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Quarantine and prior travel testing

All passengers are required to take two COVID-19 tests 48 hours prior to boarding the direct flight to mainland China. Those who are lucky to have a layover, must also take two tests in the layover location.

At the beginning of January, the rules were changed for passengers traveling from the U.S. to China. According to the new requirements, assignees need to be in their departure city seven days prior to departure on the direct flight, take their first COVID-19 test seven days prior to departure, and take the second test 48 hours before boarding. Both tests must be negative.

This hassle is not limited to departure—it also continues upon arrival. Officially, assignees must spend 14 to 21 days in quarantine in a government–designated hotel at the point of entry in China. However, this is not 100% true! Some countries have signed fast track channel agreements (Germany, France, South Korea, U.K., Japan, and Singapore; U.S. is being considered). The fast track channel allows business travelers who test negative before and after departure to avoid centralized quarantine and instead follow an itinerary and take regular tests for 14 days.

Will things get better?

Most business travelers are looking forward to a quarantine- free entry, but it is most likely not going to happen. China’s “Zero–Covid” policy has proven to be effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19 and the news in the market is that the economy continues to grow.

What to do?

Be flexible. Reach out to your AIRINC representative. We are more than happy to listen to our clients and find a solution. If the fare is too low, we might check refundable flights through our Airfare Database. Location isolation is a category in hardship and exceptions to the budget can be a solution in exceptional times like these. Nevertheless, we can’t make airfare less volatile than it is.

Companies often struggle to find an accurate way to determine, administer, and update the provision of air travel. This is why many companies, especially those with larger programs, are switching to cash allowances or managed caps in lieu of reimbursing travel. Switching to cash allowances or caps generates the need for credible data which can be sourced from AIRINC’s Airfare Database.


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