Air China’s business class pampers passengers. // © 2010 Air China
In 2011, agents are going to see much more of Air China than ever before, according to Zhihang Chi, vice president and general manager, North America, for Air China Limited.
“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,” Chi said. “More agents will ‘run’ into us than ever before.”
Indeed, 2011 promises to be a year of exceeding growth for China’s national carrier. The airline plans to take delivery of approximately 30 brand-new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft and Boeing 787 Dreamliners beginning next year, reflecting the airline’s rapid growth over the past few years.
“In 2002, we had 69 aircraft,” said Chi. “At the end of July, we had 365 airplanes. We are flying to more destinations and expanding our network.” Chi added, “It is fully our intent and in our plans to expand more flights between China and the U.S.”
Strengthening its presence in the U.S., especially the West Coast, is a key strategy for Air China.
“International business is a very heavy component of our overall business,” Chi said. “The U.S. market is also probably one of the most challenging markets for us; to demonstrate to the world that we are a major player, we need to make it in this market. The Western U.S. is where we concentrate most of our capacity. Today, we fly to four North American destinations: New York; Vancouver, British Columbia; San Francisco; and Los Angeles.”
Earlier this year, Air China established a brand-new North America headquarters office in El Segundo, Calif., in close proximity to Los Angeles International Airport. The move, Chi explained, has enabled the carrier to respond much more quickly to the needs of its passengers and travel industry partners.
“The new building houses our state-of-the-art call center,” Chi said. “Today, more than 95 percent of our calls are answered and 90 percent of those calls are answered within 30 seconds.”
Similarly, Chi said that Air China’s outlook for next year was also on the rise.
“Air China is based in China,” he explained. “China’s economy is still expected to grow at a reasonable clip in 2011. We also expect the world economy to continue its slow recovery and our overall outlook to be positive.”
To maintain that positive outlook, Chi said that Air China will remain committed to meeting the needs of its customers and working closely with travel agents and distributors.
“We want to expand the circle of distributors we work with,” said Chi. “We also value our relationships with agents. They are our most important partners. We will see them more often, listen to them more often, talk to them more often and strive to make it increasingly easy to work with us. Today, about 40 percent of the calls that we receive are from our travel agents.”
And to make it easier for agents to sell Air China, Chi said that the airline is planning to expand its product offerings and make it easier for agents to earn commissions.
“We continue to expand our product line to cater to different needs,” Chi said. “For example, we would customize out ticketing time limit for special needs. We continue to file more and more fares electronically with the Airline Tariff
Publishing Company and file fares in ways that make it easier for agents to sell and earn a commission.”
Chi also hoped that more and more agents and their clients will familiarize themselves with Air China’s quality of service and safety in the coming year.
“We have one of the best safety records in the airline industry worldwide, and we are the exclusive flag carrier of China,” he said. “We were the airline partner for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, and we are a full member of Star Alliance, with full reciprocal earn-and-burn benefits for our customers and our partners’ customers.”
Chi also encouraged agents to sign up for the airline’s monthly e-newsletter as a means of keeping up to date on the airline’s continued growth and expansion. Agents can do so by e-mailing Air China at firstname.lastname@example.org