Ultra long-haul travel grabs the headlines, but it’s a step too far for the average traveller

If time is your enemy and cost is not an issue then ultra long-haul flights like Qatar Airways’ Doha – Auckland service, the new Qantas Perth – London flight and recently launched Singapore Airlines Singapore – New York link certainly deliver convenience. However, for the average traveller, even those that are fortunate to enjoy the comforts of Business Class, the convenience of a non-stop flight is not enough to cover the cost premium. Many travellers even like the opportunity to break the journey.

The past year has seen a wave of ultra-long haul flights open up, transporting passengers across the globe in record time and comfort. This is driven by greater technological efficiencies, which have made it possible to travel such long distances without fuel stops, and advances that have helped lessen the physiological impacts on the human body.

But, as Sara Grady, head of tourism at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, notes, this would be “nothing without market demand”. That Singapore Airlines does not offer an economy seat on what is now the world’s longest passenger flight is telling. Ms Grady notes this “hints at the underlying truth that such journeys will, in the short to mid-term at least, be reserved for the wealthiest of travellers”.

Our own research for The Blue Swan Daily earlier this year (see: ‘Qantas’ non-stop service delivers 50% price premium on London – Perth route during first month of flights‘) highlighted how making a one-stop flight between London and Perth was significantly cheaper than the Qantas direct flight and only added a couple of hours to the overall journey. We agree with Ms Grady’s opinion that currently “the benefits of a direct connection will only be justifiable to the business traveller or the elite holidaymaker.”

Last month, we looked again at the London – Australia market to see if the new Qantas non-stop flight was impacting travel habits (see ‘It has been a landmark year on the Kangaroo Route, but who have been the winners and losers to date?‘). From a nine stop ‘hop’, via a one-stop ‘skip’ via an Asian or Middle East Hub to the new non-stop ‘jump’, the popular Kangaroo Route linking Australia and the UK is one of aviation’s most competitive long-haul air corridors. Now almost a dozen airlines are actively pursuing the around two million annual passengers flying between the two countries with itineraries routing via new emerging hubs across the globe.

Our analysis of the first half of 2018 shows that estimated passenger demand between the countries was up +8.3% across the period, versus H1 2107 with the number of passengers flying on direct itineraries up by a fifth (+20.0%), no doubt boosted by the Perth-London link. In fact Qantas’ own direct demand levels rose by just over a quarter (+25.2%) in H1 2108.

Indirect demand grew at a slower but still very healthy year-on-year rate of +7.1% in H1 2018, according to the data. The changes to the schedules seem to have elevated Dubai International Airport’s position as the main transit point for passengers, boosting its share of indirect traffic by one full percentage point, rising from 26.3% in H1 2017 to 27.5% in H1 2018 and translating to around 25,000 additional passengers.

It is clear the ultra long-haul flight has stimulated demand. As technology advances and familiarity with the concept of ultra-long haul travel reaches the mainstream we will see more and more routes open up, however we are clearly a long way off ultra-long haul becoming the norm.