[Quick Take] Upgrading the United Airlines and Air China Strategic Partnership

CHICAGO and BEIJING, March 23, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Air China and United Airlines recently signed a multi-year agreement to strengthen their long-standing strategic partnership. In addition to the long-term extension of their agreement, Air China and United have established a joint strategic initiative that will significantly deepen coordination between the two airlines for the benefit of their customers in China and the United States.

Air China‘s President, Song Zhiyong, said: “Both the United States and China are crucial for the international aviation market. I firmly believe that the strengthened partnership between United and Air China will provide better and more convenient services for the passengers in the joint Sino-U.S. market.”

Through the new initiative, Air China and United will work together to elevate their product offering to customers across the travel experience, including:

  • Expanding connecting flight opportunities to further enhance their industry-leading joint network betweenChina and the United States
  • Creating a more seamless experience for customers when traveling through key gateway airports, such asBeijing and San Francisco
  • Enhancing elite frequent flyer benefits for each other’s most loyal customers when traveling on the joint network
  • Coordinating and expanding joint marketing and product-enhancement opportunities in both the United Statesand China

The new initiative will be led by senior executives from both carriers, who will meet regularly to coordinate new initiative rollouts, promote closer cultural integration between Air China and United, and prepare both companies for future joint opportunities.

Read More: A Cloudy Outlook on China-US Open Skies

United‘s President and Chief Executive Officer, Oscar Munoz, said: “We are honored by the close partnership Unitedand Air China have shared since 2003 and the positive difference it has made in the travel experience for both carriers’ customers. This agreement marks a significant milestone in our long-standing cooperation and further distinguishesUnited and Air China as the leading carriers between the U.S. and China.”

United currently serves three mainland China destinations nonstop from its premier Asia-Pacific gateway at San Francisco.

Read More: Delta invests in China Eastern

United will launch an additional nonstop service from San Francisco to its fourth destination in mainland China, Xi’an, on May 8, 2016 (westbound), and its fifth destination in mainland China, Hangzhou, on July 13, 2016 (westbound), subject to government approval.

Air China and United, both members of Star Alliance, currently operate the leading joint network between China and theUnited States, and together carried more than 2.7 million customers between the two countries in 2015. The carriers operate codeshare flights on 47 routes in China, 72 routes in the U.S. and Mexico, and 16 trans-Pacific nonstop routes between China and the United States.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Agree that there are precious few specifics here. But long-term there’s definitely a lot of potential in the UA-CA partnership, given the strength of UA’s hub at San Francisco and CA’s at Beijing. The latter is the biggest competitive advantage. Its position in northeastern China makes it a much better connection point than Hong Kong or Shanghai. the latter of which also has the problem that the bulk of domestic traffic is served out of a different airport (Hongqiao) than long-haul international (Pudong). Air China also has a hub at Chengdu, another good hub for feeding connections further west and south (and served with a UA nonstop from SFO).

  2. When JV comes along (if ever), the pairings are likely UA-CA-(ZH) and DL-MU-(FM). AA might have to go with HU even if they can’t get CX to agree to invite HU into the alliance.

    UA-CA is the most ready-to-go from day one. Even as of today, 6 out of 7 mainland UA hubs are already connected to PEK, while UA already flies to all 3 of CA’s hubs (PEK, PVG, CTU).

    DL lacks an existing JV to northeast Asia, and has invested over $400m in MU, so when US-China JV opens up, DL will throw all eggs into that single basket – PVG.

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