Saturday, August 23, 2014

Australia September 2013 - Qantas Airways 1940 Economy Class (AYQ → ASP)

***This post is part 19 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

Originally, I had planned on flying directly from Ayers Rock to Perth, bypassing Alice Springs completely. However, in late 2012, Qantas cancelled their non-stop AYQ-PER service, and I was forced to detour through ASP. Complicating matters more, the flight schedules made it impossible not to overnight in Alice Springs. While this wasn't an ideal itinerary, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to see an isolated part of Australia I'd otherwise have skipped.

It was a hectic morning driving all the way out to Kata-Tjuta for the sunrise and back, but I actually made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I returned my Hertz rental inside the terminal and paid for the additional kilometers driven. While I expected this to be a pricey rental given the remote tourist destination, I was still a bit astounded to pay over $120 USD for a 24-hour economy car rental. To say Ayers Rock is an expensive place to visit is a gross understatement.

Ayers Rock Airport check-in area

A short lined had already formed for the QantasLink check-in counters, but the wait was quick enough. After my large backpack was tagged to Alice Springs, the agent printed out my boarding pass and directed me to the security checkpoint towards the left of the counters.

QantasLink counters

Security was an effortless affair, as it always is in these tiny, far-flung locations around the world, and I was airside within minutes. There wasn't much to see or do in the two-room departures hall, and I swiftly exhausted the few options I had, including perusing the surprisingly extensive gift shop and checking out the only dining option at the airport.

Departure gates and gift shop

Quick service dining option

Gate 1

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Flying The City-To-City Business Routes Of East Asia

Anyone who has lived in East Asia or traveled there for work knows of the city-to-city business routes between the major metropolitan areas of Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, and Seoul. For those planning a visit for the first time, however, it is worth emphasizing just how much more convenient these secondary airports are when compared to their more famous counterparts.

City-to-city business routes in East Asia

City airports almost always started off as the main international gateways to the urban centers they serve. In Asia, these smaller airports were often old military airfields converted into civilian use after World War II. As the economic boom of the 1960s through the 1990s fueled unprecedented growth in the region, major East Asian cities began constructing larger, more modern international airports capable of handling the massive increase in passenger traffic.

Trouble was, space came at a premium closer to town, so most new airports were built on plentiful land far outside of the urban areas, where future expansion was also possible. In a strange twist of fate, however, as business connections grew over time between these interdependent economies, more and more commuters found the newer airports to be far too inconvenient.

Time is money, of course, and if an executive needs to fly from Seoul to Taipei for a half day meeting, the last thing she needs is to spend an hour or more in traffic each way commuting from the airport to the downtown office. If that same executive flew from and to the city airports of Gimpo and Songshan, however, a potential two hours or more could be shaved off the travel time.

In the table below, I have compiled a comparison of the distances between each airport and the corresponding city centers. I've also included approximate driving times as calculated by Google Maps, assuming there is no traffic. Note that many of these airports also have metro connections, which can be faster than driving, depending on the time of day.

Distance and driving time comparisons

The distance and time savings can be considerable. Consider Taipei Songshan, for example. The airport is actually located within downtown Taipei, and reaching central destinations takes only a matter of minutes. Similarly, Tokyo Haneda is infinitely more convenient for those heading into downtown Tokyo compared to Narita, which is located more than 35 miles outside of the city.

While these routes make life a lot easier for business travelers, they can also help the casual visitor heading to East Asia for vacation. Of course, if you plan on solely transiting through one of these major cities, it makes sense to use the same airport (anyone rushing between Tokyo Narita and Haneda can attest to just how painful it can be). However, if you plan on actually stopping over in two or more of these destinations, consider searching for the city-to-city routes when planning your itinerary. It could potentially save you several hours of travel time and a bit of money.

Award availability is quite plentiful on these routes, as fewer travelers worldwide know about them. Out of all the possible routings between these four cities, the busiest by far continues to be between Tokyo Haneda and Seoul Gimpo. A quick search on the United website revealed six daily non-stop flights operated by ANA and Asiana, with tons of seats available in both economy and business:

HND → GMP award availability

Oddly enough, United no longer recognizes Taipei Songshan Airport (TSA) in its search tool, so I headed over to the ANA website instead and investigated award availability further. A search for the Taipei Songshan to Seoul Gimpo, Shanghai Hongqiao to Taipei Songshan, and Shanghai Hongqiao to Tokyo Haneda routes revealed decent availability in both economy and business:

TSA → GMP award availability

SHA → TSA award availability

SHA → HND award availability

Over on the Oneworld side, a search using the British Airways website revealed decent award availability (at least in economy) on Japan Airlines between Tokyo Haneda and Taipei Songshan. Don't forget that using distance-based Avios on short flights such as these can be a great value. Be aware that British Airways does collect mild fuel surcharges for Japan Airlines award tickets.

HND → TSA award availability

There are many SkyTeam airlines that fly the city-to-city routes as well, including China Southern, China Eastern, China Airlines, and Korean Air. It can be difficult to search for SkyTeam awards, however, and your best free option is probably the Air France Flying Blue website, although I have found the award search tool to be clunky and quite buggy. Alternatively, the subscription service ExpertFlyer displays award availability for all of the airlines listed above. If all else fails, those who are curiously masochistic still have the option of calling Delta SkyMiles.