Airlines have relied on international routes recently to be their big money makers and none have been more sought after than flights to China. In the last few years, the US and China came to agreement to slowly phase in more flights between the two countries. Before that agreement, the only two US carriers flying to China were United and Northwest.
The party got started this year when Continental started Newark to Beijing and American started Chicago/O’Hare to Shanghai. For 2007, only incumbent airlines will be able to bid for new flights, and today United surprised everyone by applying for Washington/Dulles to Beijing.
The reason it was surprising is that United has had a long-standing desire to fly from San Francisco to Guangzhou (CAN). So when they came out with this request today, it was surprising. This may simply have been the realization that United wouldn’t win the new route out of SFO. It could be clear pandering to the politicians in DC with the tempting promise of nonstop flights.
American has applied for Dallas to Beijing while Continental has asked for Newark to Shanghai. Both of those applications are strong, but Continental’s seems like it should be the front runner. This new United service, however, is really an interesting twist. It opens up nonstop flights in an important market politically and that could help sway the vote.