HNA Group Co Ltd, parent company of Hainan Airlines Co Ltd, is urging the United States to lift restrictions on visas for Chinese visitors.

"The United States government should give more visas to Chinese visitors and more support for direct flights from China to the US," said Chen Feng, board chairman of Hainan-based HNA Group, recently.

"Limited visas mean a limited number of potential travelers, and that increases the risk of starting a new direct flight," he said.

Hainan Airlines, China's fourth-largest airline by fleet size, buys aircraft from Boeing Co in the US yearly. However, Chen said, even the company's purchasing agents are denied US visas. "It's ridiculous."

Although the United States and China signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2007 to facilitate visas for Chinese visitors, applicants might still have to wait for more than a month for the personal interview they need to obtain their visa for a trip to Hawaii and other US destinations.

And travelers complain about the difficulties. Yuan Hong, a bank clerk from Hefei in Anhui province, said she was twice denied a visa last year to visit her son, who was pursuing a master's degree in Boston, Massachusetts.

"I didn't know why. I met all the criteria listed on their (US Embassy) website," she said. "I would only have been looking around and shopping in the US."

In October 2009, Hainan Airlines obtianed approval from the US Department of Transportation to begin regular nonstop flights from Beijing to Honolulu. These would have been the first Chinese flights carrying passengers directly from Beijing.

But the airline never began the service, Chen said, because of the visa problem.

"It is very hard to start a new direct air route if Chinese travelers can't get a visa to visit the US," Chen said. "The purchasing capacity of Chinese tourists is overwhelming now and definitely spurs local economic growth," he added.

On Aug 9, China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd became the first Chinese airline to offer direct services to Honolulu with twice-weekly nonstop flights from Shanghai – though it had to cancel four flights in October due to passengers' difficulties in getting US visas.
China Daily

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