Why American Airlines Won’t Be Flying From Chicago To China Soon

American Airlines will not resume flying from Chicago to China anytime soon. This development comes after American requested dormancy on frequencies between Chicago and China. Given the unfavorable market conditions, American Airlines has decided to return those allocations so they may go to other airlines.

American Airlines
American Airlines will not be flying to China from Chicago anytime soon. Photo: American Airlines

American Airlines Chicago to China

American previously flew from Chicago to both Beijing and Shanghai. On the surface, these seemed like excellent routes. Not only was there strong origin and destination markets due to business and leisure travelers, but American’s hub in Chicago would allow for American Airlines to offer connections for passengers traveling between the United States and China. Unfortunately, the route didn’t work out and American Airlines suspended service in October of 2018.

AA 787 exterior
American Airlines suspended service to China from Chicago in 2018. Photo: American Airlines

The carrier cited unfavorable market conditions when they suspended flights from O’Hare to China. However, they didn’t want to relinquish their rights to the frequencies. Instead, they sought to keep them dormant so they can resume flights when market conditions were more favorable.

The United States Department of Transportation was lenient. As a result, they granted the dormancy waivers to American Airlines despite other carriers seeking to add new services to China. Now, that dormancy waiver has expired and American is returning those slot allocations.

AA cabin
American lost a lot of money with empty seats on their planes. Photo: American Airlines

Flights between the United States and China

Currently, flights between the United States and China face regulations and frequency restrictions. As a result, airlines jockey for routes to and from certain cities in an effort to beat the competition. China is a growing aviation market and airlines definitely want a slice of this highly lucrative pie.

After American announced they wanted to suspend services between Chicago and China, Delta and United both leaped in and proposed their own new services. In Delta’s case, they wanted to add a new flight between Minneapolis and Shanghai on an Airbus A350-900. Delta believes that with strong hub-to-hub connections available, they can make this flight work. This would represent the first nonstop transpacific service between Minneapolis and China and would complement their services to Tokyo and Seoul from Minneapolis.

Delta A350
Delta wants to add new service between Minneapolis and Shanghai on Airbus A350-900s. Photo: Delta

Meanwhile, United proposed a second daily flight between their hub at Newark-Liberty to Shanghai. This flight would be operated by a 777-200 and give United both a morning and afternoon out of both Newark and Shanghai. Thus, United would be able to leverage heavy connecting traffic in addition to capturing origin and destination passengers from what is increasingly a key market for them.

United 777
United proposed an additional daily flight between Newark and Shanghai on a 777-200. Photo: Tom Boon/Simple Flying


This news is interesting since American recently started to partner closely with China Southern. However, China Southern is mainly based out of Guangzhou and would not be of much help for American out of Beijing or Shanghai. Simply put, American couldn’t make flights to China work from Chicago. They faced heavy competition from China Eastern and United on flights to Shanghai. Their main competitor to Beijing was also United Airlines.

Interestingly enough, O’Hare International Airport lacks a lot of direct links to China. Neither China Southern nor Air China flies to O’Hare and, aside from United, no other legacy carriers fly between O’Hare and China. Meanwhile, Hainan Airlines flies between O’Hare and Beijing.

It will be interesting to see if Delta and United receive their frequencies now that American has relinquished them to be farmed out to other carriers.

Do you think Delta and United will launch new flights to China? Will American make a comeback in China? Let us know in the comments!