QF29 Hong Kong to London: How Qantas trashed their own route

In August, Qantas announced their intention to cut their Hong Kong to London service as part of a series of network changes. Its demise can be attributed to a series of poor network planning decisions made by Qantas that starved it of customers.

Background

Currently, Qantas operates a daily 747-400 between Hong Kong and London as QF29/30; this flight begins in Melbourne and is one of four daily Qantas services between Australia and the UK. Qantas is planning to axe the Hong Kong to London route in March 2012.

Qantas also flies to Hong Kong from Brisbane, Sydney and Perth using its A330-300 (the workhorse of the Asia network).

Forgetting to connect the flights

Qantas neglected to follow a basic ‘Airlines 101’ principle in operating their Hong Kong hub – they forgot to time their flights so that passengers could connect. This meant that they could not fill up their Hong Kong to London flight with passengers from around Australia.

Airlines typically provide a service between Australia and the UK/Europe using the ‘scissor hub’ approach. This involves flying services from a range of Australian cities to a central hub where passengers connect onto services to the UK/Europe. Major players in the Australian to Europe market, such as Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Emirates, all use this approach. Qantas also employs this approach at its Singapore hub. Services from Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney are neatly coordinated to connect to onward services to London, Frankfurt, Mumbai and formerly Paris.

The ‘scissor hub’ approach was not adopted by Qantas in scheduling their Hong Kong services. Flights from Brisbane and Perth, which lack a direct service to London, were not timed to meet the flight from London; instead, these passengers were funnelled via Singapore. Essentially, the Hong Kong to London service was fed by only one flight (QF29 from Melbourne) rather than four. An incredibly wasteful approach to planning a service.

Qantas had the potential to make this flight the primary link between Brisbane/Perth and London, leaving the A380s to be fed by services from Melbourne, Sydney and Asia (via RedQ). This oversight was particularly wasteful because Brisbane to London is actually faster via Hong Kong than via Singapore.

Inferior onboard product

Qantas rolled out its updated onboard product onto both its Singapore to London flights but not its Hong Kong to London service. This would have caused passengers to shift to the Singapore hub, thereby artificially diminishing the profitability of the Hong Kong to London route.

Qantas should have given the Hong Kong to London route the same product as the Singapore to London services. This product would have been a source of differentiation against competitors and removed the artificial shift of passengers towards the Singapore hub. It also would have left more space on the A380 for passengers connecting off the new ‘RedQ’ carrier.

A few other What-ifs

  • It is likely that Qantas could have continued to operate the Hong Kong to London route, despite the poor scheduling out of Singapore, if they had bought the Boeing 777. Air New Zealand successfully operates the HKG-LHR route using the 777-200ER despite lacking any partner airlines at Hong Kong or London.
  • The Hong Kong hub could have been used to operate a tag flight to Beijing to replace the Sydney to Beijing service that was axed in 2009. This would provide additional feed for the London flight and give one of the A330s something to do instead of sitting on the ground in Hong Kong all day.

Closing

The Hong Kong to London route’s supposed poor performance was caused by Qantas’ failure to manage the details effectively. The route could have been a real winner, particularly for Brisbane to London passengers, if Qantas bothered to connect the flights properly and provided the same onboard product that other Qantas London flights have received.

How could Qantas have better managed their Hong Kong network?


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About David Keating
I work part-time as a transport planner and have set up this blog to express some views on the commercial airline industry. Whether you like, loathe, agree or disagree with my post, please drop me a comment :)

12 Responses to QF29 Hong Kong to London: How Qantas trashed their own route

  1. Pingback: Why the demise of QF29 HKG-LHR? - Page 2 - PPRuNe Forums

  2. Zyzz says:

    mirin’

  3. If Qantas is wondering why it is allegedly taking a bath on the International legs, then should get a map of Europe out that has more than two cities on it. You can not compete against airlines who take Europe seriously when you only fly to London and Frankfurt. What about the other 20 odd counties. Don’t they count?

    • They need to provide one-stop options like their competitors; back-tracking via LHR doesn’t cut it. They have two options to extend coverage to Europe
      1) Add additional routes from SIN using their own aircraft. Unfortunately, they won’t have any long haul fleet to do this until 2016 when the 787-900s are delivered (http://www.ausbt.com.au/qantas-does-the-787-shuffle-with-boeing-dreamliner).
      2) Codeshare. They do this to Paris (AF), Rome (CX) and Helsinki (AY) on the Asia to Europe leg. Malaysia coming into OneWorld expands the number of cities. However, QF has no flights to Kuala Lumpur so perhaps they’re planning on having passengers travel Malaysia the whole way?

      Either way, the August 17 announcement didn’t really add anything as far as Australia – Europe goes from what I can see.

  4. I took the code share to Paris a few years back and the most endearing memory of the flight was a 6 hour transit in Hong Kong airport after flying direct from Melbourne. On the way back, we came through Singapore and the transit was less than two hours. A six hour transit is not a direct flight!

  5. John says:

    Your explanation about flight timings at a hub is correct in theory but you seem to forget real world constraints such as runway & air traffic slot availability, airport curfews and aircraft utilization.

    Clearly, you have not realized that QF097 from BNE to HKG was re-timed some time ago to operate overnight and arrive in HKG in time to connect with QF029 to LHR.

    The loss of HKG LHR and BKK LHR is just as much due to higher costs as revenue shortfall and given QF’s plan to retire their older 747 aircraft, it was harder to justify operating routes which could be served by a close code-share partner when the aircraft could be used more efficiently elsewhere.

    On your other points:

    QF would be crazy to buy two 777 aircraft just to operate MEL HKG LHR. When you referred to “poor scheduling out of Singapore”, I guess you meant HKG.

    What makes you think the HK and Chinese governments would grant permission to QF to operate between HKG and PEK?

    May I refer you to Chapter 1 of “Blogging 101″ which states that bloggers must check facts before making criticisms.

  6. Thanks for reading and posting such a detailed reply John – I’ll respond as best I can to each of your points:

    1) Everything that I’ve posted has been with those constraints in mind. Shifting the HKG-BNE and HKG-PER flights to co-incide with the arrival from LHR would improve aircraft utilisation and not encounter slot/curfew timings at LHR (as you would not be shifting QF30 LHR-HKG, which already departs LHR pretty close to curfew). In fact, arrival at BNE be earlier, which is a more attractive time to J pax than today’s 0920 arr time.

    2) BNE-HKG was re-timed to meet in Hong Kong in the London-bound direction only. In the Australia-bound direction, passengers must endure 5-6 hour connection time to BNE/PER compared to 2.5 at SIN. This discouraged use of QF30 LHR-HKG relative to QF10 LHR-SIN leading to the former’s demise.

    3) BKK-LHR was a goner, I agree. QF operated this flight out of BKK with no feed from other Australian cities (except JQ from MEL).

    4) I agree that operating only two B777s for this single route would be crazy but this is not what I was suggesting; I was saying that that MEL-HKG-LHR could have worked if QF had bought a fleet of B777s which is something many commentators say should have occurred (I think even Dixon acknowledges was a mistake).

    5) The comment about HKG-PEK was in relation to a hypothetical 5th freedom tag. QF definitely have rights to carry Australians to PEK as they used to serve this city (SYD-PEK nonstop); I’m not sure whether they have rights to carry local traffic HKG-LHR. The A333s sit at HKG from 0600 to around 2100; one of them could carry passengers from the MEL, SYD, BNE and PER arrivals to PEK. They already operate a similar tag LAX-JFK-LAX while most aircraft sit idle.

  7. Rene says:

    I will be flying QF29 from Melbourne to Hongkong on the 22nd of Feb 2012 and onward to London on the 25th of February with QF29.

    I’m booked in F but looking at the stories above it might be a different plane with no F.

    Could you confirm if it will be the 747 with F?
    Looking forward to your reply.

    • Rene,

      QF29/30 is still being sold with F so the airline will aim to operate an F configured B747. Given that there is actually a surplus of F configured 747s (they’re being reconfigured to J/W/Y), it is very likely that the flight will have F on the days you travel. Checking back the last couple of months, there have been no instances of non-F aircraft operating QF29.

      flyertalk.com and australianfrequentflyer.com.au are the best sites I know for these kinds of questions.

  8. Marco Chong says:

    Great analysis! Very insightful!

  9. marty says:

    I fly to europe 2 or 3 times a year from Perth and for me the answer is simple. SINGAPORE AIRLINES.

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