Unusual carriers to Australia

Finnair is not an obvious choice for Australia but they offer a quality service and, at the right price, or if everyone else was full, could be an interesting choice. You fly from Heathrow or Manchester to Helsinki (which prides itself on the ease of its connections) and from there to Hong Kong where you connect with Qantas to Australia. At the more extreme end of options, the Russian airline, S7 (a member of OneWorld), desreves a mention. It offers fares to Sydney via Moscow. You fly from London to Moscow with BA and then with their partner Etihad to Abu Dhabi and on to Sydney. The only involvement of S7 is selling the ticket. If you were able to get stops at both cities (and get the visa for Moscow), it could make an interesting trip.

Low-cost versus traditional is not so simple

Finnair made a small profit in 2007 and then produced losses for a number of years until 2012 when they managed to produce a slim profit of €11.8million. They expect to make a slightly improved return for 2013.

They have just sold a historic holding they had of 4.7% in the budget airline, Norwegian for a total of €53million. This will allow them to book a profit of about €34million.

A cynic might say they would have been better off closing down their own operation and just buying shares in Norwegian.

It is true enough that the traditional airlines from medium to small countries such as Finnair, LOT, Malev, Austrian and SAS have all struggled terribly whilst a handful of budget airlines, notably Ryanair, easyJet and Norwegian, seem to have swept the market (and profits) away with them.

But it is easy to be wise after the event and make generalisations.

Finnair could just as easily have invested in Air Berlin or flybe (shares floated at 295p and  now worth 44p). And don’t even ask Singapore Airlines about what they think about their purchase of 48% of Virgin Atlantic.

Finnair might not be able to match the recent high-speed growth of Norwegian but they should survive – and they will be better working on their own business rather than relying on other companies to produce profit for them.


Betting on the next bust airline

The Irish bookmaker, Paddy Power, are well known for their rather unusual speciality bets and, for a couple of years now, they have been running a book on the next airline to close due to financial failure. Globespan was always high on the list but in the last few weeks the price dived. There is no “hot favourite” on their list at the moment but the leaders are Wizzair at 4/1, Finnair at 9/2 and Malev at 5/1.

We would not suggest using their prices as a guide to the strength of an airline because their market-makers seem to have some very strange ideas.

Finnair is 55%-owned by the Finnish government and is regarded as a national asset which is vital to the independence of the country. Whilst it has had a recent dispute with its pilots and needs to improve its figures, its results over the last few years have been better than many other airlines. It is hard to imagine the Finnish government allowing a semi-state company and strategic asset to go bankrupt.

Wizzair is a privately-owned company (in fact, it is run as a group of individual companies which operate from the different bases of the airline). The company has been very secretive about its finances though it appears that the original part of the airline is just about profitable whilst some of the newer subsidiaries are loss-making. This is hardly a suprise so, on the face of it, they appear healthy enough but until they are much more open about their finances, rumours will persist. They might well be in much better shape than is generally thought but, equally, their sudden demise would not be a major shock.

There is a definite question-mark over Malev but some of that is due to the behaviour of its Russian shareholders. The company was bought by a Russian company which went bankrupt leaving the airline partially under the control of a Russian bank. The Hungarian government has been giving the airline a helping hand but they would very much like to find a new and secure home for the airline. It seems unlikely that the Hungarian government would just walk away, especially since the airline itself appears to be getting closer to some form of recovery, but it is not impossible.

Most of the other quotes on the list are laughable but 8/1 for the small Irish regional airline Aer Arann appears tempting. A small, regional airline in a country with an economy in dire straits is, on paper, a very likely candidate for financial trouble, however well-managed it might be. The problem is, we can’t see an Irish bookmaker making a mistake on an Irish airline…

Breast augmentation offer to frequent flyers

What’s an airline to do when faced the near total cancellation of services due to industrial action by your pilots?

Here’s a bright idea! Why not offer your frequent flyers the opportunity to redeem points in exchange for breast augmentation and other procedures at your country’s leading centre of Plastic Surgery excellence?

This marvellous non-sequitur is what Finnair appears to be up to with the introduction last week of the Nordstrom Hospital, Helsinki as a Plus Partner. Customers wishing to use their air miles for enhancement surgery must first book a €95 consultation at the hospital before using loyalty points for the voucher. Earning the 3.18 million points for breast augmentation surgery would require 120 return business-class flights between Helsinki and New York, strikes permitting, according to a points table on Finnair’s website. Miles earned with the airline are valid for five years.