Air China Takes Flight

A Q&A with Zhihang Chi, Air China Ltd. By: Deanna Ting
Chi // © 2010 Air China Ltd.
Chi // © 2010 Air China Ltd.

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The Details

Air China

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How is Air China working more with its U.S. travel partners and travel agents?
All of our calls used to be spread among four offices; now, they are all consolidated under one roof here. What that has done is that it has made it greatly easier for people to do business with Air China. I have now tripled my reservation staff and the average wait time for each call is 20 seconds. You won’t find that kind of wait time at any U.S. carrier. Eighty-six percent of our calls are answered within 30 seconds. We’ve heard from the travel agency community that we are doing a great job servicing our customers and the agencies.

What news can we expect to hear from Air China in the near future?
You are going to hear some fairly major announcements from us, especially with regard to our U.S. expansion plans, once we iron out all of the details. There will be some exciting news within the next month or so. In the past, we have been guilty of not making ourselves better known. But I want your readers to know that we are a great carrier, we are very safe — we have a spectacular safety record and we offer great values and, for the fares that we charge, I think we provide great value to our customers.

Air China Ltd. is expanding worldwide, and the U.S. market is of particular interest to the airline. This year, China’s national carrier ordered four Boeing 777-300ER aircraft and it established its North American headquarters in El Segundo, Calif. TravelAge West recently spoke with Zhihang Chi, Air China’s vice president and general manager for North America, to discuss the airline’s strategies for expansion and growth.  

How has business been this year?
This year has been an extraordinarily good one. U.S. origin traffic is rebounding, but it is not quite like what we saw in 2007. Chinese travelers are coming to the U.S. in droves.

How important is the U.S. market to Air China?
International business is a very heavy component of our overall business. The U.S. market is also probably one of the most challenging for us; to demonstrate to the world that we are a major player, we need to make it in this market. The West is where we concentrate most of our capacity. Today, we fly to four North American destinations: New York, Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles. As you can see, our capacity is heavily concentrated in the West for good reason; it is geographically and culturally closer to China.

In what ways is Air China planning to expand its areas of service?
It is fully our intent and in our plans to expand more flights between China and the U.S. We have 15 Boeing 787s on order and we have a number of Boeing 777-300ERs on order. Those planes are almost all designated for the long-haul U.S. market. In 2002, we had 69 aircraft. At the end of July, we had 365 airplanes. We’re flying to more destinations and expanding our network. Strategically, our Beijing hub is the most efficient hub for connecting traffic throughout Asia because of its geographic location. We’re always looking for ways to expand in China and throughout Asia as well. Along the way, we have either acquired carriers within China or we have formed partnerships with other carriers such as United and Cathay Pacific, for example. 

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