Is Finnair Taking A Bite From The Gulf Carriers?

Last winter saw Finnair increase its seat capacity by an impressive 13% across its network. Finnair placed a heavy emphasis on its routes to Asia, and a quick glance at the company’s website clearly shows how important they view the Asian market.

Finnair flies the most direct route to Asia
Finnair flies the most direct route to Asia

Gateway To Asia

The company is trying to brand itself as the gateway to Asia; its website is full of infographics showing:

  • Under the title “Fly the shortcut to Asia”, Finnair is pushing the idea that it offers the shortest possible route.
  • You save 4 hours flying to Asia with Finnair compared to other major airlines. The point is driven home by the fact it takes 10 hours 40 minutes to fly from Helsinki to Seoul, while other airlines take 14 hours 35 minutes on average.
  • Finnair also published a route map that highlights the speed and convenience of how short the route to Asia is with them.

Taking On The Gulf Carriers

The Gulf carriers made their names in two ways. First, Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar marketed themselves as the bridge to Asia from Europe. Next, aside from their geographical position, they also upped their game and offered a fantastic hard product, especially in Premium cabins,  but also a pretty decent Economy seat and service.

Finnair is using a similar strategy with a twist and using their population and geographical position as a competitive advantage.

The Economy Market Segment

With political troubles brewing in traditional Mediterranean holiday destinations, more and more Europeans have begun to venture further afield for their sun and sea. With this in mind, Finnair looks to maximize their advantage due to several factors.

The holidaymakers flying in Economy don’t care how nice the Business class is, or how beautiful the al Mourjan Business class lounge is in Doha. They want to get to their holiday destination as quick as possible.

Finnair has a considerable population in northern Europe to attract. Most are only a couple of hours flying time away. Once in Helsinki they can rapidly connect and reach Asia pretty quickly. The same is not the case for the Gulf carriers. Qatar and the UAE have tiny populations nowhere near enough to sustain operations the size of Gulf carriers.

Finnair the most direct route to Asia
Finnair the most direct route to Asia

For the average tourist based in northern Europe or Scandinavia, a couple of hours hop to Helsinki then 9-10 hours, and you are in Bangkok is a far more attractive deal than 7-8 hours to Doha or Dubai, and then another 8-9 hour to Bangkok.

The same strategy applies to the East coast of North America. Americans can either fly domestic for 6 hours, and then fly from the West coast to Asia, or jump across to Helsinki and then take the polar route to Asia.

Premium Bites

Finnair has also upped its game in the premium market with a great hard and soft product on its A350. For business travelers who want to get to their meetings in Asia, choosing Finnair makes more sense whether you live on the East coast of North America or Europe.

Flying from New York to Bangkok via Doha involves nearly 19 hours flying. Going via Helsinki is around 18 hours. Even though the time difference is small, the breakdown makes for a more convenient trip via Helsinki.

Can Finnair Do It?

That is the million-dollar question. There is a strong chance that the strategy will be successful in the Economy segment, especially when you consider that South-East Asia is a huge tourist destination for Scandinavians. Thailand is a case in point, which explains why Finnair offers flights to Bangkok, Krabi, and Phuket.

The premium market is a different game and will ultimately depend on how the Gulf carriers respond. As lovely as the Finnair Business seats are, the Qsuites are not in the same league.