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.

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.

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!


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The flight between Madrid and São Paulo is the most popular connection we have here in Brazil with China. Unfortunately we do not have direct flights, but this also made it easier to control the coronavirus


I absolutely love the Houston to Panama route and can’t wait till it’s back on. This direct flight forces United to bring down their prices to compete. The plane is huge so there is plenty leg and hip room for my 6’4 frame. I also enjoyed the meal and wine that was included unlike other carriers that make you pay for it. The service was very friendly too. Thank you Air China.

Allison Payne

I thoroughly enjoyed my fifth freedom Air China flight to and from Panama. The plane was very clean and comfortable. the service was impeccable. the flight attendants beautifully turned out, just so professional and very friendly. the food was great. I am so so disappointed that they have cancelled current runs to Panama and apparently no one else has stepped in to fill that void. Air China flight price was absolutely amazing… I paid fewer than $500 per round trip ticket which is unheard of. The flight was 4 hours and direct. I was very impressed as they’re extremely reasonable price actually opened up the possibility of my visiting the place where I grew up much more frequently. I look forward to the end of this awful virus and the resumption of normalcy for the Chinese people. God bless and thank you again for this wonderful opportunity to visit the place that I grew up at a price that does not require that I be independently wealthy.