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A Look At San Francisco: One Of America’s Gateways To Asia

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is one of the air gateways to Asia for traffic from the United States. As both an airline hub targeting connections and the largest international airport when considering nonstop service near Silicon Valley, a booming tech and business hub with a lot of business demand to Asia, the airport is only growing in might. While traffic to Asia is currently down due to travel restrictions and the global crisis, that has not stopped airlines from flying to Asia from San Francisco.

United Airlines is one of the largest players between San Francisco and Asia. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

An example of SFO’s continued growth is Vietnam Airlines. The carrier has added the first nonstop, regularly scheduled commercial flights between Vietnam and the United States with its route from SFO to Ho Chi Minh City (SGN). It will only be operating two weekly flights for now but plans to grow it as demand returns.

Star Alliance dominates

Star Alliance carriers are the largest between San Francisco and Asia. This is not necessarily surprising given the United Airlines hub. In December, United Airlines has scheduled flights to the following Asian destinations, per Cirium:

  • New Delhi (DEL) with daily services using a Boeing 787-9
  • Seoul (ICN) with 27 flights scheduled in the month with a Boeing 787-9
  • Tokyo Narita (NRT) with daily services using a Boeing 787-9
  • Taipei (TPE) with daily services using a Boeing 777-300ER

United Airlines is also operating flights to Shanghai (PVG) from San Francisco with a stop in Seoul (ICN) that is not included in the above list. The carrier has scheduled the service this way due to strict restrictions for aircrew in China.

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Separate from United, Singapore Airlines also has scheduled daily vaccinated travel lane (VTL) flights to Singapore (SIN) in December. It also has flights to Singapore that stop in Hong Kong (HKG). It is also sold as a fifth-freedom SFO-HKG flight.

A Look At San Francisco: One Of America’s Gateways To Asia
Singapore Airlines flies an Airbus A350 nonstop from SFO to Singapore. Photo: SFO Airport

Asiana Airlines has 18 flights scheduled for the month of December from SFO to its hub in Seoul (ICN). The airline is sending an Airbus A350-900 on this route. While it is a member of the Star Alliance, things are expected to change in the future when Korean Air finishes its acquisition.

Then comes All Nippon Airways, which is better known as ANA. In December, it has filed 13 flights each to Tokyo Haneda (HND) and Narita (NRT). Narita is more of a connecting hub for ANA than Haneda. Separately, the airline has scheduled two special Boeing 787-9 flights to Osaka (KIX) from SFO during the month.

The last two Star Alliance carriers flying to Asia from San Francisco this December are EVA Air and Air India. To Taipei (TPE), EVA has scheduled nine Boeing 777-300ER flights this December.

Air India has a larger schedule from San Francisco than EVA. From its hub in New Delhi (DEL), the airline has scheduled 23 flights during the month. It has also planned four nonstop flights on Saturdays to Bangalore (BLR) using a Boeing 777-200LR.

Air India Boeing 777-300ER
Air India flies to two destinations nonstop from SFO. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Other carriers

In addition to Vietnam Airlines, five other carriers fly between Asia and SFO. This includes SkyTeam carriers China Airlines and Korean Air. China Airlines has six Boeing 777-300ER-operated flights scheduled to SFO from its hub in Taipei (TPE) next month. Korean Air has 23 flights planned for the month on Airbus A330 family aircraft. All of its flights are scheduled to Seoul (ICN), its largest hub, from SFO.

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Not to be left out, oneworld airlines also fly to San Francisco. Cathay Pacific only has nine flights scheduled on the 777-300ER to San Francisco. Japan Airlines has 13 flights for the month planned to Haneda (HND), with another 18 scheduled to Narita (NRT) – both in Tokyo – and all on the Boeing 787-9 next month.

A Look At San Francisco: One Of America’s Gateways To Asia
Cathay Pacific has historically flown to SFO from its hub in Hong Kong and continues to serve it, even amid travel restrictions. Photo: SFO Airport

Lastly, there is Philippine Airlines in the mix. The non-aligned airline has two routes scheduled next month from SFO. The first includes 27 frequencies in the month to Manila (MNL). The second is only four flights to Cebu (CEB). All flights are scheduled on a Boeing 777-300ER.

More room to grow

In December 2021, SFO has only 352 flights scheduled to Asia. In December 2019, there were 1,056 flights scheduled to Asia. The most significant changes have mainly been concentrated around countries with strict travel restrictions, namely China and Japan. Hong Kong is also another geography with fewer operating operations than pre-pandemic numbers.

For example, in December 2019, United Airlines flew to the following Asian destinations:

  • Chengdu (CTU)
  • New Delhi (DEL)
  • Hong Kong (HKG)
  • Tokyo Haneda (HND)
  • Seoul (ICN)
  • Osaka (KIX)
  • Tokyo Narita (NRT)
  • Beijing (PEK)
  • Shanghai (PVG)
  • Singapore (SIN)
  • Taipei (TPE)

Several of these routes had multiple daily flights scheduled. This includes Hong Kong, which had up to two daily flights. Shanghai and Singapore also both had two daily flights. Most others were also daily operations, except for Chengdu, which was three times per week.

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UA 787-9
United Airlines is planning on keeping its large transpacific presence out of San Francisco, but when it comes back remains subject to the demand environment and government restrictions. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Next year, more flights to Asia are coming back. In July 2022, airlines have tentatively scheduled 1,093 flights between San Francisco and Asia. This includes several new services, like Vietnam Airlines’ flights to Vietnam. Not to be left out is United’s soon longest route, which will fly to Bangalore (BLR) nonstop.

Whether all of these flights come back at these frequencies remains to be seen. Asia has been one of the slowest markets to reopen, and governments have shown hesitancy in reopening borders, especially in the wake of recent news.

While Star Alliance dominates, oneworld is becoming a growing force at SFO as well. Alaska Airlines is busy building a hub, which could also serve as a connecting hub to feed demand to and from Asia. This could lead some airlines to bring back more flights if cargo and connecting demand remain stronger than originating Bay Area traffic.

In short, SFO is one of the key gateways from the USA to Asia. As travel demand comes back, the airport’s importance is expected to continue to grow, and the future looks bright for new and expanded long-haul international routes, though it may take a while for demand to come back.

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