A new non-stop route will be opened between Chicago and Helsinki.
BEGINNING in May a new route will open for travellers between Helsinki and the U.S. Midwest. American Airlines will fly daily nonstop flights between Helsinki and Chicago.
“Helsinki has been high on our list for quite a few years,” says Kurt Stache, Vice President of American Airlines. “We believe now is the right time. We are connecting two very powerful networks: our network based in Chicago and Finnair’s in Helsinki.”
American Airlines and Finnair have had a close relationship for years. American Airlines ground handles Finnair’s flights at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, and Finnair will return the favour in Helsinki.
Both companies are part of the oneworld alliance, and the daily flights between Helsinki and Chicago will include a codeshare agreement with Finnair. Stache explains that the flights were timed to take advantage of connecting routes. Travellers from Chicago will have approximately 15 onward connection opportunities from Helsinki while westbound travellers will be able to connect to more than 40 cities beyond Chicago.
“Chicago itself is a great destination, but the Chicago hub is very efficient,” says Stache. “You can get better and faster service to most destinations in the U.S.”
“The Chicago hub provides a strong network to the U.S., and Helsinki Airport provides excellent connections to Russia, the Baltic nations and Poland,” says Finavia’s Senior Vice President for Marketing Kimmo Ruotsalainen. “The new Chicago – Helsinki route enhances Helsinki’s position as a leading transfer airport in Northern Europe.”
“Great circle route”
The route will be flown during the summer season, from May to October. American Airlines will use their Boeing 763 aircraft on the route. Because of the curvature of the earth the flight time will be about the same as it takes to fly Finnair’s Helsinki to New York route, eight and a half hours.
Paavo Virkkunen of Finnair terms this the “Great Circle” route. Indeed, this is at the heart of Finnair’s Asia strategy, because many flights between Europe and Asia are shortest via Helsinki.
“Mercator is the biggest challenge to Finnair’s strategy,” Virkkunen jokes. The Mercator projection presents a map of the round Earth on a flat surface, distorting the way land masses look closer to the poles. Hence, while looking at a Mercator map a viewer might be mistaken on what is the shortest route between two points.
American Airlines has just launched a Finnish-language website and will have a local sales office. Also, it is offering several incentives to promote the new route. Passengers can earn up to 15,000 bonus miles in their AAdvantage frequent flyer program. Also, the airline is pricing round trip fares at only 475 euros during May, if passengers book by the end of March. The company isn’t sure what the final regular pricing structure will be.
“Pricing is very fluid,” says Stache. “We change 15,000 prices a day. As you know, this depends upon supply and demand. There is a lot of competition in pricing.”
Currently American Airlines’ plan is to fly the route in the summer, and transfer the planes to the company’s Latin and South American routes during the winter. The ultimate goal is to offer the route year-round.
“Just because a flight is full doesn’t mean it’s profitable,” Stache explains. “We need to develop the market and get the support of business travellers. Soon we will roll out a program for small- and medium-sized enterprises.”
Text: DAVID J. CORD, Helsinki Times