Garuda Indonesia has announced route changes for their London Heathrow (LHR) service. From July 16th, the airline will no longer fly to Jakarta from London, instead of flying to Denpasar only, with a stop in North Sumatra on the way. The stop in Kuala Namu is thought to be tied into the forthcoming Hajj pilgrimage, for which this airport is a major transit point.
Garuda’s on-again, off-again relationship with London
Garuda Indonesia has frequently altered services to and from London, and at some points have canceled it altogether. Digging into their timetables, we reckon there have been seven alterations so far this year, with this latest announcement making it the eighth time they’ve made a change.
Having canceled services to London last year, they planned to restart in November 2018. However, this was pushed back, with flights eventually resuming to LHR from Jakarta in December. Weeks later, in January, the London to Jakarta route was modified to add a stop in Denpasar.
At the end of January, they announced that the aircraft would be upgraded to a three-class Boeing 777, replacing the two class of the same type from July onwards. The route remained the same; Jakarta – London Heathrow – Denpasar.
In May, we reported that they were cutting the London route, and severely reducing services to Amsterdam in a bid to rein in their costs. However, shortly after this, the route restarted yet again, and again with the Jakarta – London Heathrow – Denpasar configuration, but mainly operated by an A330.
On the 20th June, it appeared they were dropping the LHR route altogether, with Routes Online reporting no reservations available from the 22nd June onwards. However, a day later, bookings opened again for the route, with no further changes noted except higher fares in certain classes.
The latest change
Now, it seems they are modifying the route yet again. The latest schedule from the airline, as reported by Routes Online, sees Jakarta dropped entirely from the route, but with a stopover added in Medan Kuala Namu (KNO), from 16th July onwards. The new schedule looks as follows:
- GA086: Departs Denpasar 08:10, arriving in Kuala Namu at 11:10. It departs Kuala Namu at 12:40, arriving in London Heathrow at 20:00. The flight will operate three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
- GA087: Departs London Heathrow at 21:45, arriving in Kuala Namu at 16:25 the next day. It departs Kuala Namu at 17:55, arriving in Denpasar at 22:20. This flight will also operate three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
According to Routes Online, Garuda will be using an A330-200 from the 16th July to the 18th July but will upgrade the service to a 777-300ER from the 18th July. It switches back to the A330 from the 8th August, although the 777 may make a reappearance on selected dates. Routes say that the schedule, with the stop in Kuala Namu, will be maintained throughout the winter season too.
Why stop in Kuala Namu?
It might seem strange to add a stop in a remote part of Northern Sumatra on the way to Denpasar, but there’s solid reasoning behind this change. From the 9th to the 14th August 2019, more than 3.7 million pilgrims are expected to be in Saudi Arabia, for the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Kuala Namu in North Sumatra is a major hopping off point for pilgrims during Hajj. According to Indonesia Inside, the embarkations for Hajj from this airport are pegged at 22 flights. Over all of North Sumatra, 139 flight groups will leave for Saudi Arabia over the days preceding Hajj. Flights to Saudi Arabia are provided by Garuda Indonesia also, making their scheduling change a clear effort to connect UK pilgrims to the onward flight.
In preparation, Medaninside says that the airport operators have accumulated an additional supply of more than 10 million liters of avtur (jet fuel) for Kuala Namu airport alone. This is an increase of 211% over the consumption in 2018 of three million liters of avtur, due to the transit route being heavily focused on Kuala Namu this year.
Departures for Mecca began on July 7th, but will continue through to the 3rd August, with a second phase planned as the date of Hajj draws closer. Passenger demand is expected to ramp up as time goes on, making Garuda’s revised flights ideally placed to get pilgrims from the UK directly to the transit point at the height of demand.
Why they plan to continue the stopover through the winter season, however, is anyone’s guess.
What is Hajj?
If you’re not familiar with the event, Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, known to be the holiest city for Muslims. All adult Muslims have a duty to complete the Hajj at least once in their lifetime, if they are physically and financially capable of making the journey.
The literal meaning of the word ‘Hajj’ is the act of going to a place for the sake of visiting. The rights of Hajj are undertaken across five to six days during the last month of the Islamic calendar. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and around 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, the dates of Hajj change from year to year. This year, Hajj begins on Friday 9th August and ends on Wednesday 14th August.
Once performed by camel and then by ship, today many airlines and travel agents offer special Hajj packages to help pilgrims make their journey to Mecca. Some airlines will lay on extra flights to cope with the significant increase in travelers over this period. From the UK, 123,000 pilgrims travelled to Mecca last year, with numbers rising every year. With this schedule change, Garuda are ensuring they are the primary airline to get them there.