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Finnair facing long-haul crisis as its Asia network is cut-off

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I am due to be in Helsinki on Friday to see and fly the new Finnair business class and premium economy seats.

Four years in the planning, the new seating is a key part of Finnair’s plan to bounce back from the pandemic. The airline was planning a rapid roll-out of the new seat, with all of long-haul aircraft to have it by the end of the year.

Finnair A350 business class seat bed

Unfortunately for Finnair, its long-haul strategy is based on flights to Asia via Russian airspace.

It is obviously impossible for the domestic Finnish market to support as many Asian routes as Finnair offers. What it has done for many years is offer competitive Business Class fares across Europe to Asia, via a connection in Helsinki. Because of where Helsinki sits geographically, it isn’t substantially slower than flying directly from the UK, Germany etc and you could make substantial savings.

Finnair new business class seat

Finnair put out a statement yesterday to say that, with the anticipated closure of Russian airspace to European airlines, its Asian network “is not economically sustainable or competitive”. The extra flying time and fuel costs required to bypass Russia would not work commercially.

The airline is able to continue with flights to North America, of course, but there is minimal demand from passengers to fly from the UK, Paris, Germany etc to Helsinki to New York unless the fares are rock bottom.

Finnair new business class A350

In a statement, Finnair’s CEO said:

Despite the massive negative financial impacts that the pandemic had on us, our cash position is still strong, c. 1.7 billion euros at the end of 2021. This includes the currently undrawn 400-million-euro hybrid loan granted by the State of Finland, which also supports our equity. The State owner has stated that Finnair is a company of strategic interest. Under these new circumstances, we as a company feel that functioning flight connections are even more important for the Finnish economy, safety and security of supply. The company is considering different solutions in case the situation prolongs, and it has an active dialogue with the State of Finland.”

Assuming my Helsinki trip goes ahead, I’ll see if we can get any further news on Friday. I am keen to try the new seat – see the pictures scattered across this article – because it doesn’t recline. It is designed to be like a big sofa chair that you can just snuggle into. Will it work? Comments in our launch article were mixed – so let’s see how it performs in practice.

Comments (64)

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  • Stu_N says:

    Looking at AY142 on Flightradar:

    BKK-HEL last week 10.5 hours transiting Russian airspace.
    BKK-HEL this week 16 hours via Romania, Saudi and India.

    Once Finnair have dealt with aircraft, crew and passengers in east Asia that’s it. Anyone that thinks their Finnair flight is happening in foreseeable future is in cloud cuckoo land.

    • strickers says:

      Where do you see 16 hours? Left BKK about 90 mins late and into HEL about 4 hours late. I make that 13 hours 30 mins roughly, or about 2 hours 30 mins extra. If they can’t at least break even on that in the short term then they are toast.

      • Stu_N says:

        Sorry – 14 hours per Flightradar for 28/2/2022. Departed 0357 UTC, arrived 1749 UTC.

        Still, a 1/3 increase in flight time. Big increase in fuel burn and crewing requirements and makes routing via HEL rather unattractive vs Gulf hubs.

        The East Asian flights (China/ Japan/ Korea) will be basically impossible for foreseeable.

    • John says:

      They’ll need to rebook everyone and pay for hotels if people are delayed. Is that cheaper than just operating the longer route?

      • Lady London says:

        They may be following what we seem to see from British Airways – relying on the fact that a large majority of their booked passengers won’t know about these rights.

        Finnair seem to be nice people so I wouldn’t assume they would have the same backup strategy as BA appears to have for the small minority of passengers who are aware of their rights and attempt to claim them : lie, ignore, deny, delay.

        • John says:

          According to Flyertalk it is quite difficult to get EC261 compensation out of Finnair (although none would be due in this scenario). They seem to be OK with rebookings but not sure how well they meet their obligations wrt hotels / meals etc.

  • strickers says:

    11 hours to 13:30 isn’t a third increase! I agree, makes the model more difficult but hopefully, for many reasons, short-lived.

    • Stu_N says:

      I was looking at 24 Feb actual times per playback in FR which give you a better idea of when plane was actually moving.

      d 0231 a1309 = 10h 38 mins

      Vs 28 Feb as above = 13h 52 mins

      so 30.4% extra.

      However you cut it, these routes are screwed until it’s viable to overfly Russia again.

    • Rich says:

      Finland want to join NATO, this is not going to be short lived.

      • Ian M says:

        If they want to join they should probably look to do so very quickly, while the Russian army is busy in Ukraine. Otherwise, probably a wiser move not to

  • Charles Martel says:

    QF2 is managing to take a route from DRW to LHR, it doesn’t look like it would be hugely onerous to divert north via Poland and the Baltics to HEL and maintain routes to SIN and HKG. The A350-900s in the Finnair fleet have a longer stated range on wiki than the 787-9s used by QF.

  • Stu_N says:

    Have a look at these routes on a globe rather than a flat map. gcmapper is a good start

    HEL-HKG is 4859 miles

    HEL – Cairo + CAI – HKG = 7149 miles; this is roughly the route the flights are taking to avoid Russia and Ukraine.

    • John says:

      Yes, HKG and Japan are not viable but nobody’s going there anyway and they can charge through the roof for getting people out of HK.

      BKK and SIN should just about be viable though maybe they are regretting having lots of sales

  • AJA says:

    This is a real shame but rather predictable that Finnair would be impacted by the closure of Russian airspace. I like Finnair and tgeir existing 1-2-1 business class layout so I am intrigued by this new seat. Not sure I like the fact it doesn’t recline but am interested in Rob’s views.

  • sue says:

    gutted! i was going to book for november to australia and its about 2k cheaper than quantas

    • mkcol says:

      Didn’t know Finnair operated to Oz.

      • A350 says:

        AY tend to sell codeshares via HKG/SIN onto CX/QF to OZ that a cheaper than QF perennial rip off fares. 🙂

    • flyforfun says:

      I had frequent flyer options with American Airlines on this routing! I was tempted but one of the legs had a very long layover. I’ll cope with about 6 hours but this was 18 or so. Might be wrong as I looked at so many flights!

  • RT:-) says:

    Analyzing the Finnair case one can clearly see that a) Finland (being Russia’s neighbor) was only allowed to use Russian airspace because of its neutral status b) Russia does not invade neutral states as long as they don’t try to bring foreign (read US and NATO) troops on its territory. So Finland’s success lies in the fact of neutrality and cooperation with Russia (no matter how much it upsets USA). It is a very wise approach and some other Russia’s neighbours have a lot to learn from. I know this is not a very popular opinion in the belligerent and confrontational West and will be probably labelled as “RT propaganda” (as often the case when the West is being justly criticized for its actions; see comment above).

    • Charles Martel says:

      I’ll bite, when has Nato (or the US) placed, or tried to place, troops on Russian territory?

    • Rui N. says:

      What? LOL Every country has been allowed to use Russian airspace for decades now. It’s a major source of revenue for Russia, they charge through the nose and use that money to finance Aeroflot.
      Propaganda to be useful has to make at least a modicum of sense.

    • A says:

      To be fair nobody would care if there weren’t oil and gas fields involved.

    • pauldb says:

      “FINLAND IS NOT A NEUTRAL STATE! I apologise for the use of caps, but were forced to be neutral during the Cold War and after it we have been anything but.”

    • Gavin454 says:

      Every country was using Russian airspace until last week.

    • Londonsteve says:

      The only belligerent and confrontational state that I can see here is Russia and the unhinged man that controls it (for now). The West does not want conflict with Russia and I doubt it ever did. Russia has sunk itself without trace owing to the weight of sanctions and almost entirely hostile global public opinion, there is no rowing back from this. As for shorter flying times over Russia, I would rather fly for longer and pay more for my ticket if it means denying Russia a major source of revenue.

      • Ianmac says:

        c.$2-300m is not a major source of revenue, even for a state as impoverished as Russia is about to become. And most of it went to Aeroflot anyway.

    • Stephan says:

      Pointless comment.

  • Ian says:

    I want to hear what’s happening in Anchorage, AK. Back in the Cold War, nobody (much) was permitted to fly over Soviet airspace, so BA, AF, KL, KE, JL and many others routed between Europe and Asia via a disproportionately busy airport at ANC. It might be time to look into that again.

    • Mark says:

      It is still disproportionately busy, but with freight aircraft that prefer to clear US customs there then transit to/from the lower 48. Pretty constant parade of 747’s when I was there.

      • Nick says:

        For very long flights it’s still cheaper (fuel-wise) to stop once along the way, because of the huge cost of carrying extra fuel to do it non-stop. Freight flights often still do this – boxes tend to whinge less than people about that. So Asia-US tend to stop in ANC. Europe to Japan would be best off stopping somewhere like OVB, but obviously passengers don’t want that so it’s a trade off in reality.

        Don’t forget that AY have a joint business with JL on Japan routes. So as long as JL can continue to fly, they’ll just rebook anyone who needs it on them. If JL has to stop as well, then I would expect HEL-ANC-TYO. Similarly, if restrictions are still in place when Japan opens up, BA would consider operating LHR-ANC-TYO. It’s not actually much more expensive than the direct flight, for fuel-saving reasons discussed above.

        • marcw says:

          Remember AY had a polar route to Japan during the cold war. Don’t know whether that would be possible nowadays.

    • Charles Martel says:

      Perhaps AY could strike up an urgent interline arrangement for routes into east Asia with Northern Pacific.

    • marcw says:

      With all the immigration and custom fuss, I’d rather connect in IST / DOH / DXB / AUH you name it.
      Or you fly with JAL, ANA, Asiana, Korean, Chinese airlines which haven’t been banned (well, you might be stuck if a technical issue arises and you need to land in Russia, and need some replacement parts…)

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