Simon Calder: HKA might win the day, but it will be a long haul

The man who pays his way

Considering they had just stepped off a 6,000-mile, 14-hour flight from the South China Sea to Sussex, the first passengers to emerge from the International Arrivals at Gatwick on Thursday morning looked in excellent shape.

Malcolm and Gaylene Williamson, who live in Hong Kong, had every right to exude well-being. They had just enjoyed the first all-business-class flight between Asia and Britain, just launched by Hong Kong Airlines.

"It was nice not to have the crowds to deal with," said Gaylene. The brand-new plane, an Airbus A330, is kitted out with just 112 seats. As it happens, I arrived at Gatwick on the same type of jet three weeks ago, but one configured by Monarch for charter flights – and therefore in the company of 357 other passengers.

Given the state of aviation, the new venture looks brave indeed. As usual, the aviation summer season will begin on the last Sunday of March. Traditionally, this marks a sharp increase in the number of flights. But a combination of expensive fuel and feeble demand has sent the process into reverse. On the other side of the "seasonal boundary" on 25 March, China Airlines' non-stop service to Taiwan's capital, Taipei, will be abandoned, while Qantas says: "Unprofitable flying between Bangkok/Hong Kong and London will be eliminated."

Yet, apparently, just what the world needs now is a daily non-stop business-class service from Gatwick to Hong Kong.

The basic product on the Hong Kong Airlines link is called "Club Classic". It bears a strong resemblance to 1990s business class. The £1,880 return fare buys a big "cradle seat" and lots of legroom. Seating is six abreast, in pairs, with a few solo seats at the back of the plane.

As in life, so in aviation: some business passengers are more equal than others. For around £1,000 more, up to 34 passengers can opt to travel in "Club Premier". This approximates to "first-class minus", with flat beds. Even in these (very) posh seats. you'll still save a good £1,000 on the existing rivals from Heathrow: Air New Zealand, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Virgin Atlantic and – until the end of the month – Qantas.

With so many premier-league airlines competing to Hong Kong, you can understand the Australian airline's decision to quit. But BA is adding three extra flights a week on the route.

Is there room for everyone? Unlike the upstart, the established airlines can tune prices across three or four classes. For much of the year, premium passengers bankroll the operation. Earnings from premium economy, business and first-class passengers sustain the airlines.

At times posh passengers are in short supply: Easter, July and August, Christmas and both Western and Chinese New Year. Happily for the airlines, these business troughs coincide with peak demand for economy class. Fares soar, and some leisure passengers are tempted to upgrade and fill the empty seats in front.

Hong Kong Airlines is betting on there being enough of an appetite for business-only jets to pay some mighty bills. Mr and Mrs Williamson said: "We'll definitely use it again if the times work." How many others will join them? While the market settles that issue, look for exceptional offers on both HKA and its rivals Another air fares war has begun.

BA's OpenSkies thinking remains clouded by doubt

Almost everyone who has started a business-class-only airline has lost a fortune. One exception: the shareholders of L'Avion, which began flying from Paris to New York in 2008. Within weeks of British Airways starting a rival service, named OpenSkies, the founders sold L'Avion to BA for an astonishing £54m.

Had BA waited a few months, L'Avion may have fallen over anyway as demand dwindled and costs soared. OpenSkies struggles on, but has cost BA tens of millions of pounds as one business plan after another has failed.

Originally, the airline was supposed to fly from six Continental cities to New York. But it expanded beyond the French capital only once, to Amsterdam. The route lasted less than a year. A link from Paris to Washington DC was also tried and axed.

Now the cabins are to be reconfigured yet again: after starting with economy, premium economy and business classes, OpenSkies switched to business-only. From 19 June, it will return to Plan A. So there are other winners in the business-class business: the makers and fitters of aircraft seats.

travel@independent.co.uk

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Recruitment Consultant (Trainee), Finchley Central, London

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn