The magic of air travel is back – but East-West routes take longer
Juliet Mann in London

While settling into his interview chair, Finnair CEO Topi Manner heard the news that Japan would reopen to foreign tourists within weeks.

"That's a little bit earlier than we anticipated," he said. "Because in January, basically in our guidance, we stated that Japan will be opening gradually and then they will be opening during the course of Q3 fully. So now it's happening a notch faster than we anticipated – it's good."

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Manner was on a quick trip to London to talk about the airline's revamped Business Class service – demand for which, he says, is "roaring back" to 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

"The magic of flying, you know, that experience of freedom is coming back," he said. "The small things – no masks, the fact that you can get a glass of champagne in business class. People want to feel that sensation of travel, of flying and and and we see the demand."

To meet that demand, Finnair has invested big in a revamp. 


We want to position ourselves as a modern premium airline, and we have been investing in improving our customer experience during the pandemic
 -   Topi Manner, Finnair CEO

"We are in the process of refurbishing our wide-body aircraft, introducing a completely new business class seat, a new travel class in the form of premium economy. We have been investing 1 billion euro in new airports in Helsinki. So it is very much about customer experience."

But the closure of Russian airspace has set industry recovery further back.

"Now we are faced with basically two external shocks that are related to the war in Ukraine," Manner said. "One is the Russian airspace closure, and the other one is the very high cost of fuel."

Finnair's passengers increased by 482% to 1.5 million in the first quarter of 2022. /LumiNola/Getty Creative

Finnair's passengers increased by 482% to 1.5 million in the first quarter of 2022. /LumiNola/Getty Creative

Finnair is still flying to Asia, but the long way round. That means more air miles, more emissions, and higher operational costs.

"We are certainly still flying to markets like Japan, to South Korea, to China. But the routings are something like 40 percent longer when we go around the Russian airspace, so we have refocused our network and pivoted West, increasing our capacity at the Atlantic and introducing new destinations in markets like India. 

"We are adapting to the reality of Russian airspace being closed, and we think that it will be for a prolonged period of time. And that means that we, as well as the passengers, will need to adjust."

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