Hainan Airlines: Catering to Business Professionals Who Travel Between Seattle and China
“We are helping Seattle become more of a gateway to China.”
~Joel Chusid, North American Managing Director of Hainan Airlines
Hainan Airlines is one of China’s major airlines. Hainan is known for its award-winning customer service, impeccable safety standards and on-time performance. Hainan carries more than 20 million passengers annually and currently flies to 90 cities in 17 countries.
Joel Chusid, North American Managing Director of Hainan Airlines, was responsible for bringing Hainan Airlines to Seattle, its first destination in North America. Mr. Chusid is also an Executive Board Member of the Washington State China Relations Council, which provides insightful perspective into the business community.
In this interview, Mr. Chusid shares innovations Hainan Airlines is making in commercial and cargo flights between China and Seattle.
Q: How does Hainan Airlines cater to business travelers between the U. S. and China?
A: We are the only mainland airline to fly directly from Seattle to China. We have numerous corporate contracts with large US-based multinational corporations to meet their travel needs. Our Economy Class fliers enjoy no charge for drinks, in-flight entertainment and no extra charge for extra baggage.
We offer a limo service in Beijing for Business Class flyers. Our in-flight service offers pajamas, slippers and other comforts.
We also go beyond that. We want to get to know our customers and their needs; we often take direct calls from them.
We work closely with Alaska and American Airlines.
Q: Hainan Airlines was awarded a 5-Star Airline ranking in 2011 and 2012. What does that mean to you?
A: We are quite proud of the SKYTRAX 5-Star distinction http://www.airlinequality.com/Forum/hainan.htm. It takes a very high standard of product and service delivery to maintain that status. We go out of our way to make people happy and our 5-Star status is a reflection of that.
Q: What is your company motto?
A: We use the acronym SMILE to describe our corporate culture.
S = Safety and punctuality. This is always a focus for us.
M = Manners and elegance demonstrated in our crew and staff.
I = Innovation and passion. We are privately owned and always strive to break new ground.
L = Leadership and teamwork. We want to emulate leadership.
E = Equality and love. We show empathy and treat all passengers as they want to be treated.
Q: Tell us about some of the new services Hainan Airlines has initiated.
A: A new online booking service and new mobile apps are being rolled out in China. We also have a new transit lounge in the domestic terminal in Beijing that is open to connecting passengers.
Q: Is there anything special Hainan does to cater to technology industry professionals?
A: On the China side we are ahead of the game. We are a hub, not a spoke. We have mobile apps for our customers. They can check-in directly via their mobile device, check the status of their flight, and get access to special offers. Everywhere we fly we have a lounge. A lot of tech people fly with us.
Q: How have your customers responded to the Seattle-to-Beijing flight? How much has it grown since inception?
A: We have a lot of regulars, so much so that our crews have gotten to know many of our passengers. We are seeing that on both the U.S. and China sides. We don’t release passenger numbers related to specific routes but we started with four flights a week in 2008—which was a real challenge at the time because it was during the Olympics when getting to Beijing was very difficult. Now we fly one time a day and we are full.
Late in the year, we increase to 4-5 flights a week, and run those additional flights until summer, which is what most of the other carriers also do. We’ll add some flights in January for the holidays. We manage frequency on a rolling basis.
Q: How has the Seattle-Beijing flight impacted your business?
A: It’s been very important for us. The Seattle-Beijing flight was Hainan Airlines’ first passenger route to the US. Washington is the largest trading partner with China and we can see it in our traffic. It is also an important education destination for the many Chinese students who attend Washington’s universities. A lot of our traffic is connecting passengers but we are helping Seattle become more of a gateway to China.
It’s important to note that we are a major customer for Boeing. We operate 80 or so of the 737s and have orders in for a few new ones each month. We are a launch partner of the 787 Dreamliner. The Seattle-Beijing route is meant to use the 787 but we are awaiting delivery. Operating in their backyard is important to us.
Q: Tell us about your cargo shipments.
A: When we started shipping cargo in 2008, we weren’t quite ready for it. The shippers didn’t know who we were so we had to build a name for ourselves. We started mainly with inbound flights and now our outbound cargo flights are doing nicely. Because it takes about an hour less time to travel eastbound, we have less fuel weight so we can use the excess capacity to carry cargo.
We now have a dedicated cargo manager and we are doing quite a bit of cargo shipments. Our #1 cargo item in summer time is cherries. We are a big exporter of Washington cherries. Even our crew brings them back to their family and friends.
Live seafood is another big item for us on our eastbound trips, especially geoducks (large, saltwater clams native to Washington State). Chinese like seafood fresh—not frozen.
We also send a lot of aircraft parts. Our inbound flights are also always full, bringing in things like cloths, toys, machine parts. Whether inbound or outbound, our cargo planes are always carrying all we can carry.
Q: What new passenger routes can we expect from Hainan?
A: This fall we are opening a new service to Bangkok from Beijing. We are also restarting our Sydney Service.
We have applied for services to Chicago and are waiting for approval from the Department of Transportation.
Q: What suggestions would you offer to business professionals in the U.S. and China who want to do more business with each other?
A: Definitely get in touch with the Washington State China Relations Council. They are a great resource and are very well connected.
Use Hainan Airlines to bridge your business trips between Seattle and China. It is hard to do business with someone you have never met before; face-to-face meetings are of critical importance for doing business in China.