First question: what is a fifth freedom flight? I mean, right? Fortunately, it’s quite simple.

Airlines are allowed a select number of flights which fly between two places which are not their home. Imagine a US based carrier flying a route from one European city to the next; or Emirates creating a flight between one city in Asia and another and that’s basically all you need to know.

You care, because they were an amazing opportunity to try out cool seats for a mere fraction of the cost in points or miles, and often on routes where all the other seats sucked!

Cathay Pacific’s exciting flight between New York and Vancouver is coming to a close as of February 18th, and that’s a crying shame. Cathay used Vancouver as an intermediary point for its Hong Kong – New York flight, but will now just operate direct flights to each city. The flight allowed you to fly direct between two incredible cities with very few direct flights while experiencing some of the finest flying in the sky, across all four cabins.

You could use a tiny amount of miles, compared to going on a longer journey, to book Cathay Pacific First Class or business class, and have that real gateway drug into award travel experience, and it was also just a really comfy way to fly if you paid cash, since the plane was configured for 15 hour journeys, rather than five.

Fresh on the heels of the bummer from Cathay Pacific, LATAM announced that the European equivalent will be going bye-bye as well, effective June 30th, 2020. The South American carrier operates their own fifth freedom flight between Frankfurt and Madrid with a fresh new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, which sure beats the cabins you’ll find on most intra-European flights.

The LATAM Madrid-Frankfurt flight has been one of the cheapest ways to try out an international business class cabin, however you wanted to pay, and gave aviation enthusiasts fantastic novelty. Obviously, everyone on the plane was happy too, because the plane featured superior leg room to short haul equipped planes.

So, why are these flights disappearing? There are still plenty of fifth freedom flights throughout the world, from trans Tasmanian hops to Southeast Asian jaunts, but they may be endangered.

Airlines are placing extreme focus on point to point “direct flights”, and anything which requires a brief stop really no longer cuts it. With more flexible aircraft, it’s easier for airlines to focus on putting smaller planes on new routes to reduce sales pressure than to navigate all the extra hassles of picking up extra passengers en route. I

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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9 Comments

  1. Have you ever done an article devoted to 5th freedom flights? I searched and didn’t find one. That would be valuable to me and (I’m guessing) many other travelers as well. Thanks!

  2. CX lost tons of money on the YVR tag. I flew it recently, it was less than half full. Airlines don’t need to bleed cash to satisfy miles redeemers…

  3. Also heard that QR are stopping SGN to PHN. Flew it last week on a 777-300, flight time 30 mins. Hardly any pax on it. But they are starting a direct DOH – PHN soon.

  4. You’re using the terms “direct” to represent both direct flights and “non-stop”. They aren’t the same thing.

  5. Amazing how much perspective matters. If one is flying from HKG to NYC on said flight, the YVR stop adds time, an additional midnight/mid flight security check, and a couple hours confined & held captive at a secured gate (no lounge access, just a couple of decrepit toilets, and a vending machine).

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