A Look At Air China’s Fifth Freedom Routes

Despite having one of the largest fleets in the world with 440 aircraft, Air China has a disappointing number of fifth-freedom routes. This is especially true when compared to other airlines such as Ethiopian and Emirates. Even though there are only three (two right now due to the coronavirus situation), the routes are interesting and diverse. Let’s take a look at what the airline has to offer.

A Look At Air China’s Fifth Freedom Routes
Sadly it doesn’t appear that any of the routes use the newer Airbus A350-900. The airline has 10 of these aircraft in its fleet. Photo: Getty Images

Madrid – São Paulo

Flying as CA907/908, the transatlantic flight takes approximately 10 hours going west, and nine and a half hours flying east. In fact, it is Air China’s longest fifth-freedom service, connecting Brazil’s largest city with the capital of Spain. The service is flown by a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, competing with airlines such as LATAM, Iberia, and Air Europa.

Air China has 13 Boeing 787-9 aircraft in its fleet. Photo: Tomas del Coro via Wikimedia Commons

Montreal – Havana

Flying as CA879/880 this service connects Canada’s 2nd largest city with Cuba’s capital city. The fifth-freedom flight actually happens only once per week, while the Beijing-Montreal service happens five times weekly. This flight is also flown using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with the Montreal-Havana leg more or less three and a half hours long. A fairly unique route, the airline only competes on this route with Canadian leisure airline Air Transat.

A Look At Air China’s Fifth Freedom Routes
The Montreal-Havana fifth-freedom route uses a Boeing 787-9. Photo: Getty Images

Houston – Panama City

This flight operates as CA885/886. The route began in April of 2018 and is flown by a Boeing 777-300ER, taking roughly three and a half hours. How is the flight? The Points Guy has a little bit to say about the experience:

“It turned out to be an unexpectedly cultural experience that made me feel like I’d stepped foot in China en route to Central America. The crew, the aircraft itself, and the brand itself are all very distinctly Chinese, as one would expect from the flagship carrier of the People’s Republic of China.”

Unfortunately, this flight is currently not in service due to the coronavirus outbreak. However, under normal, non-virus-outbreak conditions, the Houston-Panama portion appears to occur only twice weekly while the Beijing-Houston journey happens on a daily basis.

China coronavirus
Air China has had to suspend many of its U.S. services in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. This includes its Beijing-Houston-Panama City service. Photo: Getty Images


As the review above states, it would be indeed interesting to experience Chinese inflight food and service on a flight between Houston and Panama City – or any of the other distinctly non-Chinese fifth-freedom routes being flown.

Unfortunately, with only three such routes being offered – and only two currently in-service, it may not be too easy to attain this experience.

Have you flown any of these three services before? If so, let us know how the experience was by leaving a comment!