Japan-U.K. travelers tap cheaper, indirect flights

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo News

LONDON — Travelers flying between Britain and Japan are increasingly opting for indirect routes due to the recession and convenient transits, according to industry officials.

Travel officials have noted more people opting for flights requiring them to transfer in continental European capitals, with Finnair’s flights to Japan via Helsinki proving popular.

“Over the last few years, JNTO has been promoting indirect flights with the airlines in the U.K.,” said Koichiro Yoshida, director of the Japan National Tourism Office in London. “JNTO has noticed an increasing preference among clients to choose indirect flights between Britain and Japan.

“This has been partly due to the recession — with lots of airlines offering cheaper fares on indirect routes, as well as good connections from convenient airports.”

Customers opting for indirect routes — usually leisure passengers — can save around £100 pounds (¥14,600).

From February, JNTO will be launching an advertising campaign on the London Underground with Finnair to promote its connections to Japan.

Edward Ellwood, operations and product executive for H.I.S. Europe Ltd. in London, a specialist Japanese tour agency, said he has noticed this trend, particularly after Japan Airlines stopped the only direct flights between London and Osaka.

Most Japan-bound tourists generally visit Tokyo and then Kyoto. They used to fly in to Tokyo and then fly back to London out of Osaka, he said.

“When (the direct flights between Osaka and London) ended, we saw a growth in people who were happy to look at alternative options to try and replicate this kind of trip, and they were happy to change aircraft.

“People have also recently seen the advantages of using their smaller, local airport, which benefits from a quicker journey from home, shorter journey times and avoiding London Heathrow, which can sometimes get quite crowded,” Ellwood said.

“One of the most popular routes has been Finnair due to departures both from London and Manchester, their shorter journey times, the ease of transit in Helsinki, and having the choice of three destinations in Japan — Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya,” Ellwood said.

Inka Ikonen from Finnair said her airline is certainly not one of the new breed of low-cost airlines and prides itself on quality of service.

“Our success is due to our well-functioning Asia strategy and our ideal location geographically,” she said.

Helsinki is closer to Japan than other European capitals, meaning shorter flight times. Finnair flies direct to Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo from Helsinki.

Between 80 percent and 90 percent of travelers on the Helsinki-Japan flights are switching planes in the Finnish capital and traveling to other European cities, like London.

The airline saw passenger numbers increase in 2008 on its Osaka-Nagoya direct routes.

Finnair has heavily promoted itself as a Europe-Asia carrier, with the number of Asia passengers passing through Helsinki increasing from 240,000 in 2001 to 1.3 million in 2007.

Ellwood noted that other European airlines have capitalized on the trend for indirect routes to Japan, with Air France offering many British departure points and flights to Tokyo and Osaka, and Lufthansa also serves Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya.

“Air France is looking at putting its A380 double-decker plane on the Tokyo route, and this will be of great attraction to customers because of the more comfortable journey and less environmental aspect,” he said.

JNTO also pointed out that Middle Eastern carriers Etihad Airways and Emirates will soon launch new services to Tokyo and Osaka, thereby opening up more possibilities for Europeans looking to travel to Japan.

Many H.I.S. customers returning home have turned to Korean Air and Asiana flying via Seoul, according to Ellwood. This gives them the opportunity to connect from Seoul to more regional Japanese airports, including Sendai, Fukuoka and Hiroshima. It also allows them to spend a night or two in Seoul as this is often included at no extra charge from the airline.