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UK: charter flight from China sells out in 30 minutes

An international education organisation that is chartering flights from Hong Kong to the UK has reported high demand from Chinese students trying to reach university campuses, with one flight selling out in 30 minutes.

INTO has reported high demand from Chinese students trying to reach university campuses. Photo: Pexels

"A one-way economy class ticket on the chartered flight has worked out to be between £1320 and £1660 approximately"

Direct commercial flights from mainland China to the UK have been cancelled because of concerns around Covid-19. However, large numbers of Chinese students come to the UK each year, with 139,130 studying in the country in 2019/20 and many need to find a way into the country. 

“Why did they sell quickly? Partly because they were cheaper than scheduled services around the same time”

Now INTO University Partnerships is hiring flights, which will depart from Hong Kong – currently on the UK’s green list. 

To date INTO has sold tickets for four flights from Hong Kong to London, three with Cathay Pacific and one with Virgin. These flights will cater for approximately 1,200 international students. 

“Some of the flights sold out very quickly, so for example there was a Cathay Pacific one that sold out in 30 minutes, which is pretty fast for a whole aeroplane,” Sam Clews INTO’s director of operations for China, Hong Kong and Macau told The PIE News. 

“These are being sold by quite traditional travel agencies, so they don’t have sophisticated software. But they were able to sell the places in 30 minutes. Had they had better technology they would have been able to sell them in 30 seconds.

“Why did they sell quickly? Partly because they were cheaper than scheduled services around the same time, so if you wanted to take one of these charter flights it would cost you less… and also I think students like that it is a flight just for students and that they are all travelling together,” he added. 

INTO told The PIE that in some cases students might save nearly £1,000 when using charter flights. 

They said that the cost of a one-way economy class ticket on the charter flight has worked out to be approximately between £1,320 and £1,660. A scheduled ticket on the same route checked recently was between £2,470 and £2,580. 

So far some 50 UK universities have expressed an interest in the charter flights that INTO is organising.

“This may be the only opportunity for students from China to travel to Belfast to complete their studies”

A number of universities have published details of their plans to bring students into the country, including Queens University in Belfast, which is planning to charter two flights from Beijing on September 9, and/or September 24, 2021.

“This may be the only opportunity for students from China to travel to Belfast to complete their studies given the difficulty of traveling and limited availability of flights,” a spokesperson from the university told The PIE. 

“If chartered flights go ahead, there will be strict procedures in place. All passengers would be required to provide evidence of a recent negative Covid-19 test before travel and must not have displayed symptoms before boarding the flight. 

“The students would be transported directly to campus and required to self-isolate for 10 days,” the spokesperson added. 

A spokesperson for the University of Bristol told The PIE that universities across the country have been working together to help new and returning overseas students safely travel to the UK for their studies.

“Specifically, we are part of a consortium of universities which has been granted permission to charter flights for a small number of Chinese students. We will be supporting them to quarantine upon arrival, in line with government guidance,” they said. 

“The preferred outcome in the long-term would be for commercial flights to be recommenced”

While universities are finding ways to bring Chinese students on to campuses, charter flights only offer a short-term solution and UUKi told The PIE that it is working with the UK government to make sure the demand for commercial flights is met. 

“UK universities continue to make preparations to warmly welcome international students to our campuses and communities for this academic year,” said Jamie Arrowsmith, assistant director, policy and global engagement at UUKi.

“International students have demonstrated extraordinary resilience in sticking to their plans despite the challenges that Covid-19 has posed to studying abroad. 

“While the availability of air travel remains limited between the UK and some countries, the higher education sector continues to explore solutions.” 

Arrowsmith explained that one of these solutions is charter flights to ensure the UK’s international students can pursue their plans and be welcomed by UK universities. 

“While universities are doing everything they can to address remaining barriers that exist for international students, the preferred outcome in the long-term would be for commercial flights to be recommenced in a way that is safe and meets demand. We continue to discuss this with government departments,” Arrowsmith added.

Additional reporting by Raye Wu

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