Why Lufthansa is organizing a strange flight in the China triangle

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An interesting topic was covered in the comments section of a recent article about Lufthansa flights in India which all stop in Dubai, and I thought I would address it in this article as it shows how point flights to China are logistically complex these days.

Lufthansa Shenyang and Beijing Triangle Flight

Until the end of October 2021, Lufthansa is operating an unusual triangular flight to China. The German airline operates a weekly flight to Shenyang and Beijing using an Airbus A340-300, as follows:

  • Lufthansa flies from Frankfurt to Shenyang on Tuesday, departing at 9:50 p.m. and landing at 1:55 p.m. the next day.
  • Lufthansa flies from Shenyang to Beijing on Thursday, departing at 9:00 p.m. and arriving at 10:50 p.m.
  • Lufthansa flies from Beijing to Frankfurt on Saturday, departing at 12:40 a.m. and arriving at 5:25 a.m.

Triangular Lufthansa flight to Beijing

This is Lufthansa’s only service to the two cities at the moment (the airline also offers a return flight once a week between Frankfurt and Shanghai, and a return flight once a week between Frankfurt and Nanjing. , which are currently Lufthansa’s other two routes to mainland China). .

Passengers can book both the Frankfurt-Shenyang flight and the Beijing-Frankfurt flight, but as you might expect, the flight between Shenyang and Beijing cannot be booked, but the airline operates this leg on empty instead.

Why the hell would Lufthansa operate a route like this?

China’s tough flying caps in Beijing

As mentioned above, this Chinese triangle flight represents Lufthansa’s only service to Beijing and Shenyang at this time. In other words:

  • You can fly Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Shenyang, but not from Shenyang to Frankfurt
  • You can fly Lufthansa from Beijing to Frankfurt, but not from Frankfurt to Beijing

Logically, you are probably wondering how this route is economically viable and why Lufthansa would operate such complex routing. Wouldn’t it make more sense to operate a single round-trip flight from Frankfurt to Shenyang or from Frankfurt to Beijing?

Well, the answer comes down to China’s complex air policies. Not only has China limited the number of weekly flights that foreign carriers can operate to China (Lufthansa is capped at two weekly round trips), but the country has also imposed restrictions on destinations where airlines can fly. . Specifically, with a few exceptions, airlines are not allowed to operate long-haul flights to Beijing.

China has a mandatory quarantine on arrival for international travelers, and China wants to “protect” Beijing and limit the number of international travelers arriving there for the time being.

Lufthansa is simply trying to make the most of the situation:

  • The airline can carry passengers from Beijing (but not to Beijing), which means a Beijing-Frankfurt flight is perfectly acceptable
  • But if the airline wants to carry passengers to China, it has to fly to an airport other than Beijing; Lufthansa decided that Shenyang was the best option, and it was pointed out that BMW Brilliance Automotive is based in Shenyang, so maybe the cargo makes this more advantageous than other cities in China.

Lufthansa isn’t the only major airline operating a route like this to China:

  • Air France flies from Paris to Tianjin to Beijing to Paris
  • KLM flies from Amsterdam to Chengdu to Beijing to Amsterdam

KLM also operates a triangle flight to Beijing

Many airlines have chosen to simply cut service to Beijing altogether for now, while other airlines (like Ethiopian Airlines) choose to fly round trip to Beijing, but simply operate the outbound flight without passengers (I guess that most of the income from these flights comes from freight anyway).

Ethiopian simply flies to Beijing without passengers

At the end of the line

Currently, Lufthansa operates a triangular flight once a week from Frankfurt to Shenyang and from Beijing to Frankfurt. It’s Lufthansa’s only service to both cities, and due to the way the flight is structured, it’s really only for people traveling one way.

The reason for this strange flight is that most long-haul airlines are not allowed to carry passengers to Beijing, due to China’s air restrictions. As a result, airlines can either cancel their flights from Beijing entirely, operate the flight to Beijing empty, or go through another city where they drop off passengers. Lufthansa chose the latter option.

I would be fascinated to know the economics of this. Are the airlines really making money with these triangular flights because of the high fares some passengers pay, plus the freight, or are the airlines just keeping flights in China because they don’t want to lose the operating rights of these flights and / or consider these links to be essential?

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