Last updated: 04:00 PM ET, Mon October 26 2015

Hainan Airlines Wants To Be China’s Favorite Long-Haul Carrier

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | October 26, 2015

Hainan Airlines Wants To Be China’s Favorite Long-Haul Carrier

TravelPulse file photo

Hainan Airlines is the fourth largest carrier in China in terms of fleet size. However, it is the only airline based in the People’s Republic to earn a five star rating from Skytrax (not counting Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific).

Much of Hainan’s service is focused on its namesake island, which is becoming a major tourist destination for both domestic and international travelers. In addition to its main base in Hainan’s provincial capital, Haikou, the carrier has a hub in Beijing and a number of focus cities around China (including in economic hotspots like Chongqing and Shanghai).

Building on its five-star reputation

Now, the upstart airline is trying to take its five-star reputation to the bank by continuing to expand its international route offerings. The carrier plans to launch service to both Tel Aviv and Manchester, England starting next year.

Hainan has adopted a strategy that has become rather popular amongst up-and-coming airlines. In Manchester, they have found a market that has yet to be tapped. London residents already have nonstop connections to Beijing, but Manchester does not yet have such a service. Hainan’s goal is to create a new “air bridge” between Northern England and China. This kind of service is often appreciated by people in “secondary” cities because it means they do not have to travel to another hub in order to fly overseas.

Adding more and more international routes

This is not the first long-haul route that the airline has added to Hainan’s map. In fact, the Manchester service, slated for takeoff in June of 2016, will be the sixth major transcontinental route launched in recent times. The airline’s Beijing-San Jose flight is another example of trying to develop service in a new, underserved marketplace. Today, most transpacific flights take off from SFO, requiring a train or taxi trip north for travelers from San Jose and other parts of the Southern Bay Area.

Hainan Airline’s other new long-haul routes are Chongqing-Rome, Shanghai-Boston, Shanghai-Seattle and Beijing-Prague.

According to the carrier, more intercontinental flights are in the works. Hainan is banking on its image as a premium airline to differentiate itself from others in the crowded Chinese marketplace. They claim to have better food, better service and more spacious seating than the competition. These claims are backed up to a certain extent by the Skytrax rating, which is based on flier survey results. Billing itself as a premium airline has always worked quite well for one of Hainan’s main competitors, Cathay Pacific.

Domestic expansion

Hainan has also become a major player on the domestic front. It has snapped up or launched a number of regional carriers including business-oriented Beijing Capital Airlines, Fuzhou Airlines and Kunming-based Lucky Air. They are also a minority stakeholder in Hong Kong Airlines.

Hainan Airlines is obviously focused on leaving its niche behind and becoming one of the major players in China’s long-haul and domestic marketplaces. The strategy of expanding into underserved destinations like Manchester could work in the airline’s favor. At the very least, it is a welcome trend both for Chinese travelers (and East Asian fans of Manchester’s two popular soccer franchises) and for English fliers who are heading to China and don’t want to have to connect through London or another European hub. 

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