Flights between China and the UK look set to soar over the coming years. The UK has been growing in popularity among Chinese travellers recently, and thanks to an agreement signed between the two countries last December, the number of weekly flights permitted between the two countries was given a 50 per cent boost.
Now with a potential 150 flights per week, there is huge scope for airlines to build new connections between the Chinese mainland and the UK. For the time being, however, the UK’s own airlines are being cautious when it comes to launching new routes into China.
Back in 2016, British Airways was forced to cut its London-Chengdu service owing to the route becoming financially unviable, and since then CEO Alex Cruz has stated the airline’s focus for the China market will be, for the time being, via partners rather than with its own metal.
Virgin Atlantic, meanwhile, currently flies to just one destination on the Chinese mainland, Shanghai, and so far there haven’t been many indications the carrier plans to expand this in the foreseeable future.
This leaves the market wide open for China’s own airlines, which have been more than ready to capitalise on the growing traffic between the two countries, particularly to the UK capital. These carriers are also able to leverage their own domestic networks in order to keep up capacity on these long-haul routes, thereby providing connections between London and a medley of lesser-known Chinese cities.
So, precisely which Chinese airlines are launching new services to London, and what are they offering on these routes?
China Eastern Airlines
Route Shanghai-London Gatwick
Launching December 7, 2018
Flies from Gatwick Airport
The announcement of Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines’ new non-stop connection between Pudong International Airport and Gatwick Airport at the end of this year followed the busiest July in Gatwick’s history, and will offer an approximate 70,000 seats per year between the two cities.
Currently available to book, the new service will operate three times per week using the airline’s Airbus A330-200 aircraft. China Eastern has a few configurations for this aircraft, though it appears the one that will fly between Shanghai and Gatwick this winter will be its 33H configuration plane.
The good news for travellers here is that unlike its other configurations for the A330-200, this layout offers a reverse herringbone 1-2-1 set up in its business class cabin, meaning unhindered access to the aisle for all passengers. The business class cabin has 30 business class seats in total that recline to a fully flat seat, while the economy cabin has 202 seats laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration.
|MU201||Shanghai (PVG)||London (LGW)||0145||0630||Tue, Fri, Sun|
|MU202||London (LGW)||Shanghai (PVG)||1150||0730+1||Fri|
Route Shenzhen-London Heathrow
Launching October 30, 2018
Flies from Heathrow Airport Terminal 2
Shenzhen Airlines may not be as well known as some of the larger players in China’s booming aviation industry, but that hasn’t stopped its international expansion aspirations.
Set to launch a thrice-weekly service at the end of next month, the airline will connect Shenzhen Bao’an Airport with London Heathrow with its two-class A330s – a new aircraft that only joined Shenzhen Airlines’ fleet back in September last year.
Outbound flights departing Shenzhen will take 13 hours and 30 minutes, while the return leg out of London will take just 12 hours.
|ZH9067||Shenzhen (SZX)||London (LHR)||1410||1940||Tue, Thu, Sun|
|ZH9068||London (LHR)||Shenzhen (SZX)||2140||1740+1|
China Southern Airlines
Route Guangzhou-Sanya-London Heathrow
Launched July 12, 2018
Flies from Heathrow Airport Terminal 4
China Southern launched two new routes to London within two months of each other this summer, with its latest service connecting the UK capital with Sanya on the popular Chinese resort island, Hainan. Flying twice a week, the new route actually originates in the carrier’s home hub of Guangzhou, stopping over in Sanya before flying non-stop the rest of the way to London Heathrow.
Notably for premium travellers, though, China Southern flies a variant of its Airbus A330-200 that comes outfitted with a first-class cabin. This comprises four seats laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration, each with an 84-inch pitch and the ability to recline to a fully flat bed. Width is about 20.5 inches when sitting upright, but increases to about 28 inches when reclined.
The business class cabin on these A330-200s, meanwhile, is laid out 2-2-2 with 24 seats in total, meaning window-seat passengers don’t get direct aisle access. These seats do also recline to a fully flat bed position, though pitch is just 75 inches and width 20 inches.
|CZ651||Guangzhou (CAN)||Sanya (SYX)||0910||1045||Thu, Sun|
|Sanya (SYX)||London (LHR)||1315||1845|
|CZ652||London (LHR)||Sanya (SYX)||2210||1600+1||Thu, Sun|
|Sanya (SYX)||Guangzhou (CAN)||1855+1||2020+1|
Route Chengdu-London Gatwick
Launched July 3, 2018
Flies from Gatwick Airport North Terminal
Following the end of British Airways’ aforementioned London-Chengdu service back in 2017, the two cities have once again got a non-stop connection courtesy of China’s national carrier.
The flight, operating three times a week, is flown by the airline’s two-class Airbus A330-300 aircraft, which offers a business class cabin outfitted with 30 flatbed seats laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration and each recline to a full 180 degrees. Pitch in the business class cabin is 75 inches while width is 20.78 inches.
|CA423||Chengdu (CTU)||London (LGW)||1550||2000||Tue, Fri, Sun|
|CA424||London (LGW)||Chengdu (CTU)||2200||1540+1|
China Southern Airlines
Route Wuhan-London Heathrow
Launched May 30, 2018
Flies from Heathrow Terminal 4
Lounge Skyteam Lounge, Terminal 4 Departures by Gate 10
Less than two months before China Southern launched its new service to London from Sanya, the country’s largest airline inaugurated another new route to the UK capital, connecting it with the city of Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province back in May – the first non-stop connection the two cities have had with each other.
As with the Sanya service, the airline’s Airbus A330-200 aircraft flies this route three times a week with its four-class iteration similarly flying between Wuhan and London, meaning first class, business, premium economy and economy are all available.
First class offers four fully flat beds in a 1-2-1 layout with an 84-inch pitch and a 20.5-inch width. Meanwhile business class is laid out 2-2-2, with fully flat beds that offer a 75-inch pitch and 20-inch width.
|CZ673||Wuhan (WUH)||London (LHR)||1425||1845||Mon, Wed, Fri|
|CZ674||London (LHR)||Wuhan (WUH)||2210||1535+1|
Route Tianjin-Xian-London Heathrow
Launched May 7, 2018
Flies from Heathrow Terminal 3
Tianjin Airlines gave the UK its first non-stop connection to China’s northwestern Shaanxi province earlier this year with the addition of a direct flight between Xian and London.
However, the route actually goes beyond Xian to the airline’s home hub of Tianjin, one of China’s direct-controlled municipalities. With this stopover, the flight takes approximately 16 hours and is flown using the airline’s Airbus A330-200.
Tianjin Airlines equips its A330-200s with two classes, business and economy, with the Zodiac Aura Lite seat in business class. These are laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration, so direct aisle access isn’t available to all passengers, however seats do recline to a fully flat position resulting in a 78-inch-long bed.
Meanwhile in economy, passengers can find seats with a 32-inch pitch and 18-inch width, laid out in a 2-4-2 formation.
|GS7987||Tianjin (TSN)||Xian (XIY)||1055||1300||Mon, Fri|
|Xian (XIY)||London (LHR)||1515||2000|
|GS7988||London (LHR)||Xian (XIY)||2200||1600+1||Mon, Fri|
|Xian (XIY)||Tianjin (TSN)||1845+1||2040+1|
Route Changsha-London Heathrow
Launched March 23, 2018
Flies from Heathrow Terminal 3
Lounge Club Aspire Lounge, Terminal 3 Departures near Gate 9 (Fortune Wings Club members) / No.1 Traveller Lounge, Terminal 3 Departures (business class passengers)
Hainan Airlines is among the most aggressively expanding airlines in mainland China, and at no time was this more evident than in mid-March this year, when the airline launched four new long-haul international routes within the space of four days.
Alongside Brussels, Madrid and Mexico City, the airline added London to its network last month – its second flight to the UK after Beijing-Manchester route. Unlike its Manchester route, however, the London service doesn’t connect with the Chinese capital. Instead it connects with Changsha, the capital of Hunan province in central China.
Hainan Airlines currently flies its Boeing 787 Dreamliner to London. These are configured with two classes, with the 36 business class seats laid out in a 2-2-2 formation. This doesn’t allow for direct aisle access for all passengers, however the seats do offer fully flat beds when they recline.
|HU421||Changsha (CSX)||London (LHR)||1120||1630||Mon, Wed, Fri|
|HU422||London (LHR)||Changsha (CSX)||2200||1625+1|
Beijing Capital Airlines
Route Qingdao-London Heathrow
Launched November 17, 2017
Flies from Heathrow Terminal 3
Lounge Club Aspire Lounge, Terminal 3 Departures by Gate 9
When the original October 30, 2017 launch date of Beijing Capital Airlines’ new Qingdao-London Heathrow service got pushed back, travellers could have quite justifiably believed it would soon be followed by the eventual cancellation of the planned route. After all, in 2016 the airline was meant to launch flights to Birmingham from Beijing and Hangzhou, but the summer launch date for these services came and went with no new flights ever taking off.
Despite this, just over two weeks after their original launch date, the airline launched its non-stop flights between London Heathrow and Qingdao on November 17. This 12-hour non-stop service flies two times a week with the airline’s two-class Airbus A330-200 aircraft.
Business class on Beijing Capital Airlines’ A330-200 is laid out across two cabins in a 2-2-2 formation, with flat beds offering 74 inches of pitch and 21 inches of width. Economy, meanwhile, is configured 2-4-2 and offers a pitch of 32 to 33 inches and a width of 19 inches.
|JD431||Qingdao (TAO)||London (LHR)||1505||1950||Mon, Fri|
|JD432||London (LHR)||Qingdao (TAO)||2200||1730+1|