United Airlines announced on Saturday that it would suspend non-stop flights between Chicago and Hong Kong, citing weak demand at a time when citywide protests have discouraged potential visitors.
Chicago-based United did not directly blame the suspension on the anti-government protest crisis that has gripped Hong Kong since June. The Post has learned that the Chicago-Hong Kong route was losing money before passengers began decreasing more rapidly in recent weeks.
"Given the reduced demand for travel between Chicago and Hong Kong, we have determined that it is best to suspend our service," the airline said in a statement. The last flight from Chicago will be on September 8.
United also said it would suspend flights from Guam to Hong Kong earlier than planned, with the final flight on October 14. The airline said on June 26 that it would introduce a second flight to Hong Kong from San Francisco, starting on October 26.
"We will continue to serve Hong Kong from our hubs in San Francisco and New York Newark," the airline said.
United said customers affected by the cancellation would be offered alternative travel plans or refunds.
United's decision to end service between Hong Kong and Chicago appears more associated with weak yieldsEdward Russell, reporter for The Points Guy travel website
Edward Russell, the senior airline business reporter for the travel website The Points Guy, said United's move was strategic.
"United's decision to end service between Hong Kong and Chicago appears more associated with weak yields on connecting traffic to the Eastern US, than due a significant impact on demand from the protests in Hong Kong," Russell said.
"United is playing to its strengths, adding capacity to Asia's World City from its Pacific gateway in San Francisco."
Other foreign airlines have made moves to counter weaker demand for flights to Hong Kong.
Australia's flag carrier, Qantas, on Thursday said it would cut flight capacity to the city by 7 per cent. Starting in September, the airline will use smaller planes for Hong Kong routes. Qantas said booking to Hong Kong had fallen by 10 per cent since the protest crisis erupted on June 6.
Since August 1 and August 21, the number of travellers passing through Hong Kong International Airport fell 11 per cent, year on year, to 4.16 million visitors. Tourist arrivals to Hong Kong dropped further nearly 50 per cent between August 15 to August 20, according to the government.
The Cathay Pacific Group, which operates Cathay Pacific, Cathay Dragon and budget carrier HK Express, warned of "significant impact" to its revenue starting in August. The airline had warned of a double-digit decline in advanced bookings.
Cathay controls more than 50 per cent of the take-off and landing slots at Hong Kong's airport. Analysts expect the company to cut flights in response to the protests.
Cathay Pacific presently flies non-stop to Chicago from Hong Kong.
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