Wow: China Airlines Is Adding Flights To Ontario, California

Earlier in the month I wrote about how Taipei-based China Airlines was “studying” adding flights to Ontario, California. The logic seemed to be that there’s a large Taiwanese population East of Los Angeles, and on top of that the airport is offering subsidies in hopes of attracting longhaul flights. Well, it seems that China Airlines has finished evaluating the route, and it’s happening… shockingly!

China Airlines will launch 4x weekly flights between Taipei and Ontario in the spring of 2018, using a Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. While the launch date hasn’t yet been announced, the route as such seems to be confirmed. Apparently the “flight frequency will be increased to one flight a day during the peak season depending on demand.”

The press release sounds like something that was written by Qatar Airways’ CEO (bolding mine):

In a highly anticipated announcement, China Airlines said today it will launch non-stop passenger service between Taiwan and Ontario International Airport (ONT), continuing the airport’s dramatic rise in prominence as Southern California’s new global gateway.

Seriously? The airline has one longhaul flight, and now it’s experiencing a “dramatic rise in prominence” as a “new global gateway?”

You’d think the president of the airport authority would at least get some basic facts right (bolding mine):

“Today’s development is a monumental step in ONT’s evolution toward becoming just the second trans-oceanic gateway airport in the history of Southern California, and equally impressive is that it occurred within a year of the airport’s transition to local control,” said Alan D. Wapner, President of the Ontario International Airport Authority and Mayor pro Tem of the City of Ontario.

Are we forgetting about San Diego?

Here’s the thing — Ontario Airport deserves a ton of credit for courting China Airlines and getting this flight. This is an incredible accomplishment for the airport, so I have nothing but respect for the work that went into making this happen.

Not surprisingly this will come with some incentives (or subsidies — whatever you’d like to call them). Ontario Airport is waiving landing fees and terminal fees for up to one year for any airline that starts service from Asia, Europe, New Zealand and South America. So those are some significant cost savings for China Airlines, and even after that year, presumably flying to Ontario is much cheaper than flying to LAX. The question is whether China Airlines will reduce their frequencies to LAX in light of this new route (they presently fly twice daily to LAX).

All that being said, I just can’t quite figure out what China Airlines is thinking here. It’s important to acknowledge that there is a sizable Taiwanese population in the region and that they’ll save a significant amount on landing and terminal fees, but:

  • This is a route that I could possibly see making sense with a 787-8, but a 777-300ER is a big plane — that’s a lot of seats to fill, especially without compromising yields
  • They’ll have virtually no connecting traffic at Ontario Airport, so are relying entirely on the local population, unlike at LAX, where they have feed from Delta
  • The problem with serving any sort of leisure “local” population is that it’s not very high yield traffic — so while there are plenty of people wanting to fly between the two cities, the question is whether they’re willing to pay much of a premium to fly China Airlines out of Ontario, when so many airlines are offering $500 roundtrip tickets between Los Angeles and Taipei (and those $500 tickets aren’t making any airlines money)
  • China Airlines’ 777s are in a pretty premium heavy configuration, with 40 business class seats and 62 premium economy seats, and historically it’s tough to fill those seats to a leisure destination


China Airlines’ 777 business class

So I wish China Airlines the best, but unless they have some crazy lucrative cargo contract, I’d be surprised if this route lasts in the long run.

What do you make of China Airlines’ new Ontario route? Do you think it will succeed?

Comments

  1. They should’ve put the A350 on the route instead, seats are easier to fill (since there are significantly less), operating costs are lower and it’s a more comfortable ride (3-3-3 in economy).

  2. ONT actually has more domestic flights than you’d think on the surface. Southwest and American have quite a few flights while several other carriers also serve this airport. I’m still not sure it makes sense but there is potential for some feeder traffic. There is also the whole issue of auto traffic and getting to LAX in this area.

  3. This is a cargo play. But for passengers we’ll see. I know a handful of businessmen in san gabriel who would definitely use this flight once a month in the front cabin. They love that airport. Mainland tourists don’t have a particular understanding of LAX and would not be dissuaded from using this route. The competition for Chinese cities to LA is heavy and a sustained lower price option that is still profitable for the airline could be disruptive if the other airlines can’t afford to continuously match it.

  4. There’s also people connecting in TPE on their way to Southeast Asian countries. There’s big Filipino community a short drive from ONT and if they price their tickets just slightly higher than on their flights from LAX, I can see people willing to pay for the convenience.

  5. Keep in mind that ONT is a major UPS hub. UPS has cargo contract with China Airlines, and they’re going send urgent transpacific parcels nonstop to/from TPE with this 777, as opposed to stopovers in ANC or HNL.

  6. @A, what does mainland China have to do with this? China Airlines is based in Taipei, Taiwan. Unless I’m missing something, they’re completely different markets…

  7. @Lucky

    The airline has one longhaul flight, and now it’s experiencing a “dramatic rise in prominence” as a “new global gateway?”

    Should this be?
    The airport has

  8. When looking for flights customers would search for Los Angeles not Ontario
    Unless IATA designates ONT as an LA Airport as when searching for OSL and TRF is offered or LON and you get to choose from LHR LGW STN LCY

    You can guarantee most people have never heard of ONT ( Toronto)?

    international arrivals there looks like a shed, but there is a large space between the existing terminals they could build on

    I’ve been to LA over 50 times and never had any desire to go there

    Love it or hate it LAX has far better transport links , including a big investment in public transport and I always use flyaway ,super shuttle or a cab without any issues

    Perhaps they will sell block space to tour operators which is hardly a revenue earner
    Arriving at LAX feels like you are in LA and it serves a vast catchment area
    ONT would be akin to offering Southend for London, or Hahn for Frankfurt or Beauvais for Paris

  9. As @A mentioned above, I’d guess it’s about cargo. Ontario is a massive hub for air freight, and the cargo that China Airlines will carry should make up for low yields (or at least this is probably China Airlines’ reasoning).

  10. Lol to anyone pretending this is anything but subsidies galore. I’d love to see the actual details of this contract. My bet is ONT is covering any losses in addition to waiving landing fees, no way CI launches otherwise. What a joke. I’d bet good money CI isn’t going to lose anything (which is why the recommendation above to put the A359 on the route is idiotic….you wouldn’t waste an efficient frame in short supply on this crap route). This is just unaware American taxpayers enjoying their “freedom”. And 100pct agree this route is dead those subsidies are pulled. Hypocrisy in America is hilarious.

    In the words of Imbecile In Chief: “SAD!”

  11. Surely this is play for the high numbers of Asian Americans living in the San Gabriel Valley? The towns around the 10 freeway between ONT and Downtown LA have some of the highest concentrations of people of Asian heritage in the US and surely some of them will have family and business links to Taiwan. A 20 minute drive to ONT could be a far more attractive proposition than a long hike all the way to LAX.

  12. CAL is a relatively conservative airlines compared to EVA Air or other big carriers you could name. It probably didn’t cross your mind that many (probably most) Taiwanese or other Chinese people stay in East LA. Therefore flying to ONT actually saves them traveling time to LAX especially with the notorious traffic and airside experience. I would say this route is probably easier to maintain as compared to TPE-JFK

  13. The San Gabriel Valley (where Ontario airport is) does not just have the largest concentration of Taiwanese people in the US, but it also has a massive concentration of businesses who’s operations have ties to Taiwan. On a good day it can take over an hour to get from the SGV to LAX. I have to imagine there is enough daily traffic in both business and coach class coming from the area to fill this flight without relying too much on connecting traffic.

  14. Oh, I’d say it has a decent chance of success. I know a lot of people (including myself) who would drive FARTHER to avoid LAX, and with China Airline’s reasonable business class costs, I’d do that flight in an instant over any premium flight from LAX.

  15. They most likely secured some guarantees from local Taiwanese businesses to move business class traffic to the ONT flight which will certainly make the flight easier to profit from. Corporate contracts can easily make a route like this profitable as we’ve seen in other cases with airlines flying long haul between two non-hub locations

  16. ONT is a dying airport. They’ve been losing domestic traffic and shuttering gates. The long term parking lots are abandoned with weeds growing through the pavement. This will be a fail.

  17. My interest in China Air just went way up. I too much prefer flying out of ONT rather than LAX, so this looks like a new gateway to Asia. Looks like China Air is a Sky Team airline. Lucky, I think this gives you an opportunity for some additional blog posts. I’d welcome some posts that discuss booking China Air using partners’ miles (looks like Delta or KLM/Air France might be possibilities) and the travel destinations one could reach via a Taipei connection. Visiting Asia is on my travel to-do list, so it looks like I have some homework to do.

    I wish China Air luck with this route. I would love to see more possibilities out of ONT. Flying in and out of ONT is easy, but LAX is a chore.

  18. People often have no idea how big the LA area is and how hard it is to get to LAX from certain areas. They also underestimate how big the Asian population and business scene is around San Gabriel Valley. Just do a google search of City of Industry for example and see how easily it can access ONT airport. I mean nobody will even give a second thought if Air China fly to San Jose, even though it is closer to SFO than ONT is to LAX. There is also a bigger Chinese/Taiwanese population in San Gabriel valley area than in San Jose.

  19. To echo – yup the large Taiwanese business community + Taiwanese (and other Chinese) population in the San Gabriel Valley is huge. You’ll also likely see Hong Kongers or other Chinese folks who may want the ease of flying out of ONT and relatively cheap prices than maying more for Cathay out of LAX without a connection.

    But what’s more is how steadily east the population is growing. It’s not just places like Monterey Park or Arcadia, but also Walnut, Diamond Bar, and now growing fast east of the SGV in Chino Hills, Rancho Cucamonga, etc.

    So Cargo + OND Chinese folks out of SGV/IE make this fairly logical.

    And that said, totally not surprised by the ONT spokesperson forgetting San Diego. Take it from a San Diegan – people in the LA area only see LA as Southern California. They totally neglect/forget their cousins in San Diego as also another part of Southern California.

  20. @Charlie – I think people see SJC = flashy Silicon Valley so immediately think that it’ll be a hit because of tech money, tech business, and Chinese tech workers. It’s a lot harder for people to wrap there brains/know the size of valuable business among Chinese/Taiwanese communities in the SGV. Many don’t know the huge amount of export-import businesses and how large Chinese manufacturers of goods, etc. food, are based in the SGV. For instance, Lee Kum Kee (Hong Kong brand) USA’s HQ is in La Puente and it’d be far easier for business execs there to travel via ONT than take the slog to LAX.

  21. @Icarus – IATA designates it as an LA airport similar to BUR, LGB, and SNA. Up until last year even it was operated by LA World Airports

  22. @Jon W if you search LAX in the majority of booking systems it doesn’t offer ONT ( nor BUR LGB or SNA) you specifically have to ask for ONT

    LAX is a specific code to one airport and there isn’t a code for the entire metro region

    Metropolitan airport codes CHI PAR LON OSL NYC TYO MIL ROM BER PEK etc will offer multiple airports and direct or via options

    Some airlines such as Southwest will show multiple airports if you select Los Angeles however most won’t

  23. I’m not saying it’s going to be a success, but why do you always only focus on the American side of the route when “analysing” these new launches?

    I know it seems hard to believe, but people actually want to visit the US as well. It isn’t solely relying on traffic originating in LA…

  24. They’ll probably have to give a discount if anything, to attract initial attention to the route. Landing fees are $4.07 x approx. 250 (landing 1000 pounds), so the savings / offering to waive those fees is not huge money maker. $3-4 per passenger.

  25. I think there’s a good chance the route fails, but I also echo the above sentiments that there’s a decent chance it works, too. The Asian American and Asian population in the SGV area is huge, and not only that, a significant number of them are ultra-wealthy, too. ONT is much easier to get to than LAX — I used to live out close to ONT, and it wouldn’t be unusual for it to take me 3 hours to get to LAX (or vice-versa), so I flew out of ONT whenever possible. I’m sure there are plenty who’d do the same.

  26. I love ONT and will do anything to avoid LAX.
    While I’m not flying to Tapei, I am flying to Vietnam, so any Sky Team airline on a direct route works for me.

  27. I could also see some of the charter tour groups using ONT as their jumping off point, in both directions. Much easier to corral a group of seniors/older people headed to Southeast Asia, Taiwan, China, etc. out of ONT. The bus parking/pickup is also much easier out of ONT. Between travel groups, business, and local O/D China Airlines will do fine. I don’t see demand for 7 day a week service though.

  28. @chasgoose. Ontario isn’t in the San Gabirel Valley. The SGV is a bit further west (cutoff is generally considered the hills around San Dimas). Ontario is part of the Pomona Valley, also known as the Inland Empire. But ONT it’s much closer to the San Gabriel Valley, with millions of Asian-Americans, most of whom have roots in mainland China, Taiwan or Hong Kong, than LAX. Undoubtedly these populations, as well as those who have relatives or companies doing business in Taiwan, are who they’re targeting. Even when I lived in Pasadena, I’d much rather drive to ONT (or Burbank) to fly than wade through what might be hours of traffic to go to LAX. Additionally, because it’s a much smaller airport, it’s much faster to get in and out. I know ONT has struggled a bit in recent years, but part of that is due to it being operated in the past by LAWA, which prioritized LAX. Now that ONT is free from the control of LAWA, I expect it to do more to compete with LAX and take traffic from it. I’d definitely

  29. I love Ontario airport. One of the best airports in the country in terms of ease and hassle. I really like this airport. Though everything has consolidated at LAX over the last several years, I think there is potential at Ontario.

    Also, cargo is huge at ONT, so I assume they will be carrying cargo as well.

  30. Taiwan is hardly a leisure destination, though given your experiences the mistake is somewhat understandable.

  31. As someone that lives in the SGV AND grew up next to LAX, I can tell you the only reason I prefer LAX is to plane spot and cheaper prices.

    I try to fly via ONT for work as much as possible because it’s an easy uber ride, traffic is way less to and from, and if you have precheck, you literally walk through security as fast as you walk in through the door.

  32. Don’t forget San Bernardino and Riverside counties applauding this momentous announcement. Huge number of Asian population resides here. LAX is horrible!!!!

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