If ever there was key indicator that an airline has underlying financial issues, it’s when routes they shouted about when they started them, often prestigious and often to great fanfare, garnering a good deal of publicity, are quietly disposed of in a way they hope nobody notices.
The trouble is that while financially stable airlines do this all the time and it goes mostly unnoticed, when airlines under the microscope do it, just sends jitters through the industry, share holders and customers.
You get why they do it quietly, because they don’t want the publicity, or to cause the jitters with industry, share holders and customers!
So it’s not what you that matters but how you do it, and the naivety of Hong Kong Airlines shines through in the way they did it, whereas the spin machine at Norwegian was considerably more adept.
Norwegian announced the closure of its Caribbean routes as part of its rebalancing and restructure. It regretted their ending but made sure everyone knew it was about them being realistic in the face of a tumultuous year, and one day they’d like to go back.
In many ways this is a cultural thing. In China face-saving is a core element in corporate behaviour, so the need to be secretive has the appeal of making it that “if they don’t see it, they won’t report it”.
It never works like that when every move you make is under constant scrutiny by eagle-eyed reporters after a story, especially when they suspect there’s more scandal just waiting in the wings.
Hong Kong Airlines decided the best way of killing heir highly prestigious but loss making route to Auckland was to say nothing. Just stop selling tickets and nobody will notice.
First the news breaks that Hong Kong have ‘mysteriously’ – a bad word because it implies a cover up – stopped selling tickets. Then the surreptitious way of shuttering the route and not admitting the news, makes everyone wonder well, why? What have they done, what are they hiding, are the stories of their financial distress so bad that they can’t afford it any more? And away we go as a whole host of rumours gets unleashed.
It’s the last thing an airline already with a dodgy reputation from mishandled publicity needs, it just adds yet more oil to the already highly flammable theories running around over the future of the airline, 90% of which have no bearing in fact.
They didn’t just stop the ticketing either, the stopped a set of dates in Winter 19/20, then left open dates for Summer 2020, then re-opened Winter, then shut the lot down. If you had to do it it didn’t have to be done in such a weird way.
Yet the old adage ‘there is no smoke without fire’, applies to Hong Kong Airlines as it odes with anything else, they need to be more open, more up-front and realistic if they’re to manage expectations and their own survival. So far every step they’ve taken has been the worst possible choice from a publicity perspective. If you look publically stupid, passengers don’t buy tickets and confidence ebbs. Once that happens it’s a slippery slope down hill.
Hong Kong has dropped a lot of prestige routes very suddenly over the last year, including Moscow, Australia and now New Zealand. Prestige routes are highly competitive and mostly loss making especially in the current environment. There are lots of other options so why don’t they choose them?
Having realised the whole thing had gotten out of hand, Hong Kong Airlines finally came out with a full statement, that it was basically returning to localised Asian flights and dropping its long haul expansion. See, it’s easy when you just tell the truth.