I spoke with some very excited gentlemen from Continental Airlines at a recent convention on business travel in Shanghai. The reason for the excitement: their proposed direct route from Shanghai to Newark, in consideration with three other bids from American carriers (Northwest wants a Shanghai-Detroit haul; United wants a “capital to capital” Beijing-Washington flight; American wants Shanghai-Dallas) is expected to be decided on next month. Though there will be a “rebuttal” period after the bid is announced, the winner could start service as soon as March.
The airlines aren’t waiting for a green light from the authorities in Beijing – that was already taken care of with a joint agreement between the US and Chinese governments. Right now the ball is in the US Department of Transportation’s court. This article highlights each carrier’s proposition. A running account of the story so far has been detailed on USA Today’s air travel blog.
Each airline seems to be badmouthing the others’ routes, in what one analyst calls “the best and most intense [route] competition I’ve ever seen”.
So which route makes the most sense (leaving aside the quality of the airlines, that is – I’d like to see Cathay Pacific get that flight as much as the next person, but that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen)? As a Shanghai resident I may be biased, but to me Shanghai to Newark would seem to be the elementary choice, for a couple of reasons.
First, it links the the business capitals of world’s largest economy and its fastest-growing challenger for the title. The “capital to capital” rationale seems more shamelessly symbolic and less sensical to me. I could be wrong, but does the traffic of US and Chinese government personnel back and forth from Beijing to Washington, DC really warrant an air route？ Detroit seems somewhat redundant when United already has daily service from Shanghai and Beijing to Chicago O’Hare. As for Dallas/Fort Worth, there is an argument about that hub’s connections to Latin America, but really, that route can wait. Let’s have a Shanghai-New York (effectively) connection first.
Second, it is just plain cool not having to fly over the Pacific or the Atlantic to get to the other side of the world. The Newark flight goes straight north, over Kamchatka in far eastern Russia (thank you for finally opening that airspace), over the North Pole and down through Hudson Bay in Canada, and shaves multiple hours off that flight. Counter-arguments/brighter ideas are welcome.