The Czech Republic has been keeping their borders shut for more than a month now and likewise China closed their borders to all foreigners back in March. However mysteriously there is a daily flight between Shanghai and Prague: MU707. What is the purpose of this flight and who is making use of it?

As pointed out by @Relaxed this is the only non-chartered non-cargo flight that landed in Prague airport today, so there must be something special about it.

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    Freight? (Maybe added by those people who are returning home.) – Willeke Apr 21 '20 at 14:50
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    I can't actually book the flight on China Eastern's website, but maybe it's just sold out. – xngtng Apr 21 '20 at 14:58
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    (+1) It does seem to be the only scheduled flight (as opposed to chartered cargo planes) landing today so it begs the question "why this one specific flights", beyond all the factors already mentioned. – Relaxed Apr 21 '20 at 16:28
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    For interest: There are still a vast number of aircraft in the air. Zoom out here – Russell McMahon Apr 22 '20 at 12:42
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    @RussellMcMahon came here to say the same. it went from around 14k plane to still around 4-5k planes (freight mostly?) on flightradar24.com And still looooots of boats (marinetraffic.com) – Olivier Dulac Apr 22 '20 at 15:28

It's a cargo flight, after all.

Many/most passenger airplanes handle cargo business ordinarily. (Amtrak who thinks it's an airline, took it to extremes; ordering hundreds of baggage cars specifically for freight, you had Amtrak trains with 25 baggage cars and 5 coaches. Their freight railroad hosts told them to knock it off.)

However, the COVID-19 crisis has caused great shifts in the economy - largely ending the passenger business, but a veritable "gold rush" in the air freight business, particularly for emergency supplies that cannot wait for the slow container ship.

Your particular flight is from China, which as you know is where a tremendous amount of material is manufactured. And it's to Europe, which is pretty much the worst case for container-ship shipping times (must either transit Panama, Suez, or best case, a double transload for a rail crossing of North America). As such, the flight you mention is surely kept plenty busy by that traffic.

They can use almost the entire baggage hold for freight, and some airlines are pulling out seats so they can load cargo in the passenger area. This is perfectly legitimate; in fact many airliners are made as "Combis" that either convert quickly, or have a cargo section aft of the passenger section.

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    Also worth mentioning - even if you do manage to take a ship all the way from China to Europe, Czechia is landlocked so you either need to load it on trains anyways (and cross a whole lot of mountains if you go from the Mediterranean, or just one range if you unload in Germany) or manage to squeeze your ships through Elbe and Moldau. I've never seen a cargo ship on Moldau. I don't think they'd fit under our bridges. – John Dvorak Apr 22 '20 at 21:38
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    All modern airliners do handle freight, as stated in other answers, but do you have any specific information on this one? Cargo flights typically do not show up on the airport's arrival information board. – Relaxed Apr 22 '20 at 23:15
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    there is some cargo rail service between China and Europe without going through North America; it's somewhere between ship transit and air transit in terms of both cost and speed. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yiwu%E2%80%93London_railway_line – mlc Apr 23 '20 at 1:25
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    What do you mean by “cube out”? Not familiar with that jargon, and I suspect others will also be unfamiliar, so might be worth ditching it or explaining it the first time you use it. – KRyan Apr 23 '20 at 3:29
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    @Crowley There are two breaks of gauge on this route, one between China and Mongolia/Russia and one between Belarus and Poland. Crossing Ukraine is not practical given the conflict with Russia. – Relaxed Apr 23 '20 at 10:23

China Eastern airlines are used to haul face masks from China to Czech Republic.

Czech national radio website mentions China Eastern delivery from March.

I also found and an online newspaper article from 10th of April referring to China Eastern delivering face masks and Airbus 330–243 is specifically mentioned in that article.

  • Correct, the carrier is basically forced by the Chinese government. They sell the masks but they require it must by mainly transported by Chinese airlines. – Vladimir F Apr 23 '20 at 7:55

Few countries have actually “closed” their borders. The Czech restrictions seem to be among the most extensive, even after being relaxed somewhat, but do leave the possibility of travel for very limited reasons open. In particular, the Czech Republic did not, to my knowledge, close their airports and interrupt all flights into the country (which some other countries did do).

As to why that particular flight did happen, it's difficult to know for certain. There have been many discussion of nearly empty flights being operated for legal reasons (safeguarding slots and the like) but I am not sure that's a factor here. Freight is certainly a strong contender and Covid-19 actually created some new demand in that area as protective equipment, reagents, etc. are often sourced from outside Europe and especially China.

Finally, even if travel is limited to a handful of diplomats and experts, the occasional aid worker, and a few stranded nationals/residents trying to come back home, if you want to maintain safe distance inside a plane, it will fill up very quickly.

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    Interest only: re "Few countries have actually “closed” their borders." -> NZ is rather tightly closed. No surprise when you see what is being achieved so far. Stay tuned. || I understand that Fiji is not allowing nationals to return. – Russell McMahon Apr 22 '20 at 12:38
  • @RussellMcMahon NZ is an island, CR is not. – Azor Ahai -him- Apr 22 '20 at 14:41
  • @AzorAhai Indeed (or, close enough)*. And/but closing or borders can be almost as effectively handled with a physically landlocked country if there is a will. As has been seen when it is desired to physically stop refugee movement across Europe. || In 2003 I saw a 3 day or so queue of trucks at the CR-Slovakia border waiting to enter Slovakia. While some COULD have chosen to attempt border crashing elsewhere, the border was effectively closed to them until they had been properly vetted. ||*Interest only - based on distances between capital cities - NZ is the most isolated country on earth. – Russell McMahon Apr 23 '20 at 3:11

Some combination of:

  1. They can (i.e., flights are permitted by the Czech authorities); and

  2. There's money to be made now (from carrying either freight and/or passengers); and/or they want to keep their routes, and gates, and airport arrival and departure slots (which can all be at risk if they're not used); and/or they wish to pre-position their service to be already up and running as things loosen up in the transportation world.

The actual internal reasons and decision-making behind #2 are apt to be invisible to outsiders.


Czech Republic has been keeping their borders shut for more than a month now

Incorrect. A fair amount of nationals of over 30 countries can still enter Czech Republic (see https://www.iatatravelcentre.com/international-travel-document-news/1580226297.htm (mirror), e.g. people under age 18 or spouses of nationals of Czechia). And there are over 1.4 billion people who can still enter China.

More generally there are still quite a few lines in operation (e.g. see this samchui.com post (mirror)), sometimes with reduced frequency.

  • Your answer is incorrect. Only in very specific circumstances can those nationals enter the country. As pilots or truck drivers, for example. As workers in health care or social services. As eorkers in critical infrastructure. As diplomats. Or people on repatriation flights to their countries. As people living in the country. Otherwise no. – Vladimir F Apr 23 '20 at 7:52
  • "most nationals" really is not the same as "people under 18". I strongly suggest to check not only the IATA information but also the information for actually entering the country. Otherwise you perhaps can fly but will be quickly flown back. mzv.cz/jnp/en/issues_and_press/press_releases/… Even cross border working is severly restricted. – Vladimir F Apr 23 '20 at 8:00
  • @VladimirF Thanks, good catch, fixed! – Franck Dernoncourt Apr 23 '20 at 11:59

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