Air Belgium Will Start Flying Between Brussels & Hong Kong As Of April 30, 2018

In early February I first wrote about Air Belgium, which is a new(ish) airline. Air Belgium was an airline from the 1980s until 2000, and then in 2016 it was brought back to life. The airline intends to operate a fleet of four Airbus A340-300 aircraft, all of which used to fly for Finnair (Finnair retired them as they took delivery of the A350-900).

There are quite a few airline start-ups nowadays, some of which don’t seem to ever intend to operate flights. While Air Belgium claimed they wanted to start flying in March, that didn’t happen. However, they’ve been making good progress, and now have an update.

Air Belgium will begin flying 4x weekly between Brussels and Hong Kong as of April 30, 2018. Roundtrip all-in fares will start at 449EUR in economy, 999EUR in premium economy, and 1,799EUR in business class. Tickets for this new service will go on sale at 9AM local time tomorrow, Tuesday, April 3, 2018. They’ll first be available on airbelgium.com, and over the coming weeks should be added to the GDS, so they can be booked by travel agents.

The Airbus A340-300 will operate the flight with the following schedule:

Brussels to Hong Kong departing at 2PM arriving at 7:30AM (+1 day) [Mon, Wed, Thu, Sun]
Hong Kong to Brussels departing “in the morning” and arriving at 6:15PM [Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri]

Air Belgium says they’ll add other Chinese destinations in the summer, though the details of that haven’t yet been announced.

Here’s what Air Belgium says about their onboard experience:

On board of the Airbus A340, passengers will be immersed in a Belgian atmosphere, with a broad supply of Belgian products. In the economy and premium class, passengers have the choice between two menus and in business class three. Passengers also can enjoy a wide variety of movies or shop an extended selection of products. The multilingual crew speaks French, Dutch, English, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

The airline will also have a temporary business class lounge in Brussels, and in 2019 a dedicated premium terminal will open:

Premium and business class passengers are able to relax or work in a new, attractive lounge near by the airplane before their flight. As of early 2019, they will be welcomed in a brand new, dedicated premium terminal. Upon arrival in the secure parking area, premium and business travellers can continue to baggage drop-off, the security check and passport control and the comfortable lounge. Passengers who are in a hurry are able to board quickly, without any stress or queues.

Note that the airline is flying out of Brussels South Charleroi Airport, used primarily by ultra low cost carriers, and not out of Brussels’ largest airport.

As far as the onboard experience goes, they’ll mostly be maintaining Finnair’s cabins, at least in business and economy. Business class will feature fully flat beds, in a staggered configuration.

Air Belgium will have a premium economy cabin, in a 2-3-2 configuration. It seems like they’ll just offer the standard economy seats with a wider aisle.

Economy will be in a 2-4-2 configuration.

Bottom line

Air Belgium is a curious new airline. My guess is that they’re planning on filling their planes mostly with tour groups traveling to & from China. I’m surprised there’s a way to make that viable, though, given the amount of capacity that Chinese airlines are offering, and the super low fares. Add in the fact that the A340 isn’t an especially efficient aircraft, and that the plane isn’t very dense, and I’m scratching my head about this one.

I’d love to review their business class product, though I’m not sure it’s worth spending the time and money to fly with them roundtrip. If one-way fares are half the cost of a roundtrip then you can bet I’ll book a ticket ASAP, though I doubt that will be the case.

Would an Air Belgium review be interesting, or is this too random?

Comments

  1. HU operates multiple flights to Brussels, and has no intention of cutting any of them, so I bet this at least has a chance to work. From my experience with China, anything is possible, in good or bad ways.

  2. Definitely review them, it would be fascinating!

    By the way, I think they are ‘filling their planes’ not ‘filing their planes’ 🙂

  3. Charleroi – closer to France than Brussels. Not exactly a premium experience. I’ll give the route 12 months max!

  4. @beyounged
    HU has had a pretty strong partnership with SN for years, with codeshare onward to many of SN’s EU and Africa-bound flights. I personally doubt if Air Belgium would survive given that they do not seem to have (or plan to have) any intra-EU connections, as Belgium itself is not enough for securing business from Chinese travel agencies. I think there might be more chance for them to success if they decide to become a charter/leisure airline.

  5. As a Belgian citizen, I’m scratching my nose on this one. CRL is a pain-in-the-ass airport, with bad public transport connections and even worse terminals loaded with Ryanair passengers. Add the fact that Cathay just added a direct A350 flight from BRU to Hong Kong (yay!), Hainan adding B787 flights to SZX, I don’t see how they are going to fill their planes. There’s not so much to visit here, AMS Schiphol is just 100kms further from Bruges than CRL, DUS 150kms… And Air Belgium doesn’t have a hub in CRL or HKG to fill their planes.

    But I have to say that these planes look good. I’m curious to see what’s going to be their next Chinese destination.

  6. *I think there might be more chance for them to success if they decide to become a charter/leisure airline.*

    correction:

    I think there might be more chance for them to success if they decide to become a charter/leisure airline serving Belgian instead of Chinese travellers.

  7. Don’t forget, CX just launched BRU HKG as well, so a ton of capacity for a small market. 12 months may be pushing it for AB.

  8. Does the EU have any sort of “prefer domestic” purchasing requirements for traveling gov employees like the US? Could imagine decent diplomatic traffic if so, given they’d be the only “domestic” direct?

  9. Why not Ben..Brussel Airlines was also a big question mark when it started operating and since then I only hear good reports about their C product. At least they have a full bed. The C seat is still good in the market regarding MH, LX, OS etc. are installing them. You can have a throne seat and more space. But for me the soft products are more important to see and experience here as the hard products are expected to be a full flat bed and preferably in full aisle access which is nowadays the norm for internat. premium travel.
    I am curios to see if they could set up a new and good C product from Europe or not.

  10. They did a roundtrip AMS-PBM for Surinam Airways last week, must have been a nice surprise for the people on those flights.

  11. @ Sandeep

    “Does the EU have any sort of “prefer domestic” purchasing requirements for traveling gov employees like the US?”

    No, because the EU believes in free market choice for consumers.

    It also generally discourages hidden state subsidies to basket-case private companies.

    More seriously, the EU civil service is relatively small, and national governments all have their own individual policies. As, in the UK, do all local government and public-sector agencies. I would be staggered if *any* UK bodies had policies to “prefer domestic” (which is anyway probably unlawful under EU single market rules), though for pragmatic reasons some might prefer EU airlines (because compensation for irrops is better than if you travel non-EU).

    None of the public sector bodies I have worked with have had any favouritism policies, focussing entirely on “cheapest reasonable route/airline/ticket”.

  12. Thanks for making it clear on map it’s CRL not BRU. Would have rated a mention in the post too methinks. 🙂

    https://www.google.com/maps/dir/Brussels+South+Charleroi+Airport+(CRL),+Rue+des+Fr%C3%A8res+Wright+8,+6041+Charleroi,+Belgium/brussels/@50.6269214,4.1225832,10z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x47c228d0db96d9e5:0xc4a2ed66e37660d2!2m2!1d4.4649753!2d50.4642198!1m5!1m1!1s0x47c3c486740f9fff:0x10099ab2f4c8030!2m2!1d4.3517211!2d50.8503463!3e3

    https://www.google.com/maps/dir/Brussels+Airport+(BRU),+Leopoldlaan,+1930+Zaventem,+Belgium/Brussels,+Belgium/@50.8856979,4.3486026,12z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x47c3ddbec45275ed:0x24514e3e0e7f25e4!2m2!1d4.4855744!2d50.900999!1m5!1m1!1s0x47c3a4ed73c76867:0xc18b3a66787302a7!2m2!1d4.3517103!2d50.8503396!3e3

  13. There are already charter airlines running flights between China and Belgium (Liège if I remember correctly) catering to tour groups. The model is to fill the plane with several tour groups that will transfer to buses to their final destinations. Most of Western Europe, and much of Central Europe, is in range of a long bus ride from Belgium. Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and many other destinations are within a three-hour radius by bus. Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp are of course even closer.

    Not sure how premium economy and business class will fit into the business model. But CRL is a more convenient airport than BRU if you’re south or west of Brussels (Lille, Charleroi, Namur, Valenciennes, Mons, Kortrijk, Tournai, Ypres) and are stuck driving to the airport anyway. Not that I can think of any companies in those cities that do a lot of business with Hong Kong.

  14. Friends who live in Brussels avoid CRL like the plague so I think they will have trouble filling those premium cabins flying from there.

  15. They are going to have a tough time selling CRL to anyone not living in reasonably close proximity. Customer feedback from the LCCs using it is pretty abysmal.
    I’m a great fan of BRU, as an efficient entry point and for transit elsewhere ( tragic events of 2016 and the consequent disruptions notwithstanding).
    But very few of those whose destination is Brussels will tolerate the extra hour to get into the city, just for saving a few bucks.
    Whoever is backing this venture must have deep pockets. Maybe Lazlo Carreidas.

  16. @Sandreep: Depends on the government. The European officials I know/knew had relatively free choice in terms of selecting the best suited routing/flight times. Mind you, even if there were a requirement to prefer domestic carriers, this notion would include any airlines based in the single market, meaning that Lufthansa would be consider equal to Brussels Airlines.

    —-
    “over the coming weeks should be added to the GDS”

    Sounds a bit optimistic. It will probably be May by then. How do they plan to get bums in seats by then? This seems to have failed before it even started. Heck, Oasis Hong Kong tried on LON-HKG, a much more popular route (who’s going to fly CRL-HKG anyway? Jean-Paul Lafrite? And why FFS CRL? Where you won’t have any connections?) and failed miserably.

    I’m giving this a couple of months, maybe a year but after that it’s probably going to be grounded. It might temporarily push prices to HKG down. Always good…

  17. @Ben: Anyone in Brussels, east of Brussels, or in a city with a direct train to BRU will indeed avoid CRL like the plague. That covers most of the population and business centers in Belgium, so likely most premium customers. But BRU is also at one of the biggest choke points of Brussels traffic; getting to it by car or bus during rush hour from the east is a lost cause. From any other direction is even worse because you have to get on the Brussels ring.

    From most of southern and western Belgium and northwest France where you don’t have a direct rail connection to BRU, driving to CRL will be much easier during rush hour (and often outside of it). From many of these places, connecting train service to BRU will be quite slow and doesn’t run late at night. All told, there’s a few million people for whom CRL is significantly more convenient, but I’m as puzzled as you about how to extract enough premium passengers to Hong Kong with no connecting service from that population.

  18. HKG is my home airport and I’d always be interested in any review Lucky would write, but you wouldn’t catch me on that plane! I shuddered when I read “Chinese tour groups”! No thanks!

  19. I’ve used both Brussels and Charleroi airports but don’t really have any memory of either.

    People in this hobby get FAR too obsessed with airport quality etc. The vast majority of people don’t really care.

  20. I would love to see a review of Air Belgium once they’re up and running. It’s always very interesting to see reviews of the more obscure airlines. While their business model doesn’t quite seem to stack up, I wish them all the best and hope they can make a success out of it. The airline industry is a tough one but I always love to see a new airline.

  21. There has got to be more to this story because their business plan as it stands is INSANE… who on earth would pay to fly business class to HKG from Charleroi airport – it’s an abysmal place that locals avoid and is not convenient at alll to reach. And using A340s?? I was personally questioning if CX could really make their new route into BRU work, even with A350s.

    I think 12 months is incredibly generous for this crazy route, could see it folding much sooner unless we’re missing some vital information here. I just can’t inagine who would back this company with this business plan?

  22. Is Hainan putting money into this? That’s the only logical explanation I can come up with for Air Belgium.

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