Welcome to our Monday Briefing for the week beginning 1 October 2018, summarising the main developments in air travel over the past week.
London – Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a destination that BA has, through its predecessor airlines Imperial Airways and BOAC, served for more than 80 years.
The first flight from London to Hong Kong, on 14 March 1936, took ten days, required seven aircraft, and stopped at 24 cities en route.
Today, the two cities with significant economic and historic links, are served direct by three airlines using some of the most advanced commercial aircraft.
It’s a prestigious route for BA. When BA launched fully flat beds in Club World nearly 20 years ago, Hong Kong was the second route to fly with the new cabin after New York JFK. It was the second route after Los Angeles to be operated with the Airbus A380 in 2013.
BA has long faced a formidable competitor in the form its Oneworld alliance partner Cathay Pacific. It’s an airline hailed for its attentive service and vast lounge complex in Hong Kong. In recent years, Cathay has gained a number of competitive advantages. After its initially unpopular business class bed, criticised for being too narrow, it has a seat with direct aisle access. It has also added premium economy and widely acclaimed business and First Class lounges at Heathrow Terminal 3.
It dwarfs BA on frequency at Heathrow, flying five times a day, in addition to daily flights from Gatwick. Aided by the Airbus A350, Cathay Pacific has also added many destinations in Europe including Barcelona (seasonal), Brussels, Dublin, Madrid and Zurich.
There are signs this is hitting BA hard. A cursory scan of flights shows substantial differences between business class fares between BA and Cathay Pacific. Last week, BA also announced that it is closing its cabin crew base in Hong Kong with the loss of more than 80 jobs.
Hong Kong is a route BA has no option but to make work. An equivalent of its joint-business with Japan Airlines which enables easier access to local corporate clients and distribution networks, even if Cathay Pacific were so minded, would not be allowed by competition authorities.
Some measures such as new lounges at Heathrow Terminal 5 and a new Club World seat will come, but don’t be surprised to see more activity to improve the financial performance of this route.
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