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The Cost of Flying to China Has Exploded—Here’s Why

In some places, tickets are 10 times what they cost only a few years ago.

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Luckily for travelers, China has begun easing restrictions on international travel. Unluckily for them, though, plane tickets are coming at a pretty steep cost.

Some tickets to China from the United States are selling for up to 10 times what they were only a few years ago, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal. That means people are paying thousands of dollars to get to the country—even for flights with layovers. For example, a one-way economy-class seat on a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Shanghai, with a layover in South Korea, is going for $4,000 or more.

All over the world, airline ticket prices are rising thanks to higher fuel and labor costs and higher demand among travelers. But the situation in regards to tickets to and from China is even wilder than the overall market right now. Economy-class tickets from Chicago to China cost six times what they did in 2019 and twice what they did last year, according to data from the Internova Travel Group cited by the WSJ. If you’re flying from San Francisco, fares can be 10 times higher than what they were in 2019.

Even flights out of China are facing the same problem. “It’s totally different from what it was like even two years ago,” the Beijing resident Vlatka Jovanovic told The Wall Street Journal. Her recent round-trip ticket between China and Germany cost 3,000 euros, or about $2,900. Before the pandemic, the same trip might have cost her just 400 euros.

Part of the difficulty is due to the scarcity of flights into and out of China. The country’s aviation industry has rules on how frequently airlines can operate flights to China, and its zero-tolerance policy toward Covid-19 has made things even harder. Flights can be suspended if too many people test positive for Covid-19, and travelers as well as crew members are governed by quarantine requirements.

Additionally, before the pandemic, you may have been able to count on dozens of direct flights to China from the US every day. Now, only four carriers operate direct flights to the country, and sometimes there’s just one direct flight from America to China on a given day.

“I can’t imagine doing this with my family, with my kids,” the business-class traveler James Zimmerman, a lawyer in Beijing, told the WSJ. His ticket from San Francisco to Shanghai cost a whopping $12,000—and he still had to deal with a layover in Seoul.

For some travelers, though, the trip might be worth the trouble—and the cost.

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