China Eastern, Ctrip Profit While Their Customers Sleep on Airport Chairs

BEIJING (TheStreet) -- Thursday's 7:35 a.m. China Southern Airlines' (ZNH) commuter flight to Shanghai from Beijing didn't get off the ground until 9:40 a.m., according to the Beijing airport Web site.

No surprise there. Domestic air travelers in China have grown accustomed to hours-long delays and last-minute cancellations, especially since 2011 and particularly in the eastern one-third of the country where most people live.

Delays can affect air traffic nationwide for days at a time. The most recent string of snafus, which officials blamed on bad weather and military exercises, began June 20, and was expected to stretch until mid-August.

Why the Fed Is Right to Sit Tight on Rates

That said, investors need not assume that Chinese airlines, travel agencies and related companies are suffering with their frustrated customers.

Analysts expect business to improve in the second half of this year for state-owned China Southern, China Eastern Airlines (CEA) and Air China (AIRYY).

Other tradable companies likely to weather the latest late-flight storms include travel agencies Ctrip (CTRP) and the Expedia (EXPE) affiliate eLong, as well as Chinese airport advertising concern AirMedia (AMCN).

Warren Buffett’s Top 10 Dividend Stocks

The airlines struggled during the first half of the year as ticket prices fell on weaker demand and as debt servicing costs increased. Debt payments tied to previous aircraft purchases rose because China's currency, the yuan, strengthened against the U.S. dollar.

But a sharp increase in summer tourist travel paved the way for fare increases in July that are sure to "support annual results," according to a GF Securities report released this week. Compared with last summer, the report said, far more vacationers are flying to destinations at home and abroad, while the airlines are "optimizing capacity."

"China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines have outstanding capacity controls," GF said. "The results are gradually being manifest."

Also working in the airlines' favor in July were falling fuel prices and a stabilizing yuan-dollar currency exchange rate, the report said.

The airlines are also finding new ways to make money even if a passing squadron of military jets forces passenger flights to park on the tarmac for a few hours.

Last week, for example, while idled travelers tried to sleep on airport terminal chairs across the country, Ma Xulin, a China Eastern executive, spoke glowingly about his company's diversification campaign.

In an interview with the official Xinhua news agency, Ma said prospects look good for his carrier's new budget airline, China United, and a fresh-fruit charter service that shipped U.S.-grown cherries to the mainland in June.

He also trumpeted a new, in-flight Wifi service as proof that his airline, the nation's biggest by passenger volume, is "no longer content with being a good carrier" but has become "an integrated services provider."

China Eastern "is quickly adapting to changes in the world's aviation industry" by promoting a "mixed system" featuring "a traditional, full-service business model and a low-cost business model," Ma said.

Meanwhile, online travel agencies such as Ctrip are capitalizing on the punctuality problem by selling flight insurance policies that pay on a cancellation or according to the duration of a delay. Standard compensation for a four-hour delay, for example, is 300 yuan, or about $50.

Travel agencies are also cashing in on airline traveler angst by selling tickets for seats on high-speed trains, which compete against airlines on major routes such as Beijing-Shanghai.

Still, China's bullet trains are not a perfect option for travelers who can't wait. Upon arriving at a destination, a disembarked bullet train passenger who wants a cab will often stand an hour or more in a taxi-waiting line.

Kass: Has the Auto Industry Peaked?

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

More from Opinion

Tuesday Turnaround: Micron, Autonomous Driving, and J.C. Penney

Tuesday Turnaround: Micron, Autonomous Driving, and J.C. Penney

Cable Stock Investors Should Keep an Eye On Wireless Broadband's Rise

Cable Stock Investors Should Keep an Eye On Wireless Broadband's Rise

Trump Blinks on China Trade War That's Looking Harder to Win

Trump Blinks on China Trade War That's Looking Harder to Win

Monday Madness: GE, China, and Micron

Monday Madness: GE, China, and Micron

Attention 60 Minutes: Google Isn't the Only Big-Tech Monopoly

Attention 60 Minutes: Google Isn't the Only Big-Tech Monopoly