Had a chance to meet this morning with Wang Yingming, the president of Hainan Airlines.
It's a highly successful airline that began in China and is a publicly-traded company not owned by the government. They just started flights from Beijing to Toronto, and, of course, Toronto to Beijing, on Nov. 27. They're using A340 planes for now (288 passengers, including eight first-class spots and 60 business class seats) and flying Mondays Wednesdays and Saturdays. But Wang said they hope to increase the frequency to daily as soon as possible, and that they'll start using Boeing 787's in 2012.
Wang said Canada's solid economy and the tremendous growth of the Chinese travel market made the flight a natural for his airline, which began in 1993.
"A lot of Chinese people live here, are educated here, or have family and friends," he said.
Other Canadian destinations are always possible, but for now Wang is focussing on Toronto.
Hainan currently flies into Seattle, it's only other North American destination. Wang said the only airline that currently flies Toronto-Beijing is Air Canada, but that he doesn't see AC as a rival.
China's other airlines might be better known, but Wang said he's banking on his "four-star" class to increase business. It's not the food or wine or beer on board that makes a difference, he said, but instead the quality of service and the attitude and behaviour of flight attendants and other personnel.
(It's funny. I was on a United flight the other day and there was a male flight attendant who leaned over to the three people across the aisle and said in the most casual of voices, "You guys need anything?" Nothing wrong with that, I guess, but I can't imagine anything that casual on a flight with an Asian carrier. The fellow's uniform, as I recall, was pretty casual, too; a sweater vest of an indeterminate blue-grey colour, I think, and some non-descript pants. I'm not expecting a tux and tails, but maybe if New World airlines stepped things up a bit it might improve the quality of our travel. Just a thought.)
Anyway, Wang said Hainan flies to many destinations outside China, including Brussels, Berlin, Budapest, Cairo and Khartoum, as well as Luanda, Angola and to Russia, of course. It hasn't been the best of times for international carriers, but the Chinese domestic market has grown so much that it's been a big help.
Asked if Canada receiving Approved Destination Status will help increase traffic between the two countries, Wang replied, "For sure."
As for traffic to China, Wang pointed out that China was the fourth most visited country in the world in the most recent World Tourism rankings. It's expected that China will top the charts by 2020, he said.
"So much fresh water," he said. "I can feel the nature and the fresh air. The natural water can reach so many people, and there are so many animals and birds. I can feel the energy."
It may not happen for awhile, but Wang also said they're thinking of changing the name from Hainan Airlines to Grand China Air.
Appropo of very little, I'm happy to report it only took 20 minutes to get my luggage at Pearson the other night, following a trip on Air Canada. Mind you, there was almost nobody at customs and very few people waiting for their bags on a quiet Sunday night, so it SHOULD'VE been a pretty quick delivery. Anyway, it was much better than the last time, when I waited a half-hour for the first bag to show up.
What perplexed me, however, was this. There are 12 or 15 baggage carousels at Pearson, which means potentially there are 1,000 to even several thousand passengers milling about near the baggage claim area at any one time. I had to use the washroom, having been stuck on a window seat for the last two hours of my flight. I didn't want to use the one at Customs, as I like to get that over with. So I opted to try the washroom at baggage claim.
Big mistake. There's ONE stall and ONE urinal in the washroom, which resulted in a major lineup Sunday night. As far as I could tell, it was the only washroom on the floor. But even if there's another one, how crazy is that? It would've killed them to put in another four or five toilets at a cost of a few hundred bucks each? Who designed this damned airport, anyway?