Airlines face hurdles to cash in as China reopens

STORY: Chinese airports are bustling as people head home for the lunar new year holidays.

But international terminals are getting busier too, as the country reopens to travellers from abroad.

That should spell good news for the world’s airlines.

Booking site Expedia says searches for flights to China doubled after the reopening was announced.

But industry experts aren’t so sure that western carriers will see quick benefits.

Adding new flights to the country requires regulatory approval, which may be slow to come at a time of U.S.-China tensions.

Right now, United Airlines can only fly four times a week from the U.S. to mainland China.

Back in January 2019, it operated 584 services to the country.

American Airlines and Delta are both taking a cautious approach to rebuilding routes to China.

A shortage of planes may also be a factor.

Analysts say U.S. and European carriers may prioritise lucrative trans-Atlantic routes for their big jets.

That may not leave enough to ramp up China flights.

They also face a disadvantage against Chinese rivals, who are still free to use Russian airspace.

That allows them to shave hours off some routes, saving money and time.

For now that all leaves capacity running short of demand - with predictable effects on ticket prices.

Data firm ForwardKeys says airfares from China are now 160% up on pre-health crisis levels.

That could mean profit for airlines with seats to sell, but pain for hopeful travellers.