Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Royal Brunei Airlines withdraws from New Zealand - expect fares to rise

Royal Brunei Airlines has for some years now offered a perfectly acceptable two class service between Auckland and the Brunei capital Bandar Seri Begawan.  From there, connections were possible to and from London Heathrow via Dubai.

Royal Brunei upgraded it service in recent years, dropping the stop in Brisbane and replacing its rather dated Boeing 767s with secondhand Boeing 777-200ERs obtained from Singapore Airlines.  That has meant up to 34" seat pitch in economy class with on demand in flight entertainment, and for business class the angled lie flat "Spacebed" that Singapore Airlines is phasing out.

Still, Royal Brunei was often the cheapest, particularly in business class, with fares regularly below £3000 (NZ$6100).  In other words, you could often get a fare in Royal Brunei in business class between Auckland and London that was similar to premium economy on Air NZ, and so could enjoy an angled lie flat seat and lounge access on Royal Brunei, when Air NZ was merely offering a slightly bigger recline and more legroom.

So with Royal Brunei pulling out after October (this also affects flights to Brisbane and Perth), it will be a loss for value seeking premium travellers between New Zealand and Europe.  

The main disadvantages Royal Brunei faced were:
- Timetables meant that the transit time at Bandar sometimes extended to over 13 hours between connecting flights.  Even with a tour of Bandar, no traveller will want to do this more than once.
- Departure times from Auckland were sometimes 0205 (yes AM), again hardly conducive to travellers.
- Royal Brunei is a "dry" airline.  For premium leisure travellers perhaps a 28-40 hour trip across the world without a glass of wine isn't that appealing;
- Royal Brunei is not part of any of the big three alliances, so did not get feeder traffic readily, neither did most of those with frequent flyer accounts in New Zealand (or heading to New Zealand) gain anything by flying Royal Brunei.

No doubt the dropping of these routes makes economic sense.  Quite how long Royal Brunei could maintain having such a heavily discounted route (especially when point to point traffic to Bandar is not high) has long been an issue.

Meanwhile, remaining airlines carrying passengers to and from New Zealand will breathe a small sigh of relief, as the airline that kept pressure on fares, especially premium fares between London and Auckland, exits the market.

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