Flights to Northeast Asia
By Ben Lerwill | March 2018 | 6 minute read
They may be half a world away on the map but the key Northeast Asian air hubs aren’t hard to reach. From Beijing to Tokyo and from Hong Kong to Seoul, the region’s big-name cities are all served by multiple direct flight options from the UK, many of them operating several times a day. Connectivity to this region, with the neon pinboard of urban China at its heart, is on the rise, and acts as a link to Southeast Asia and Down Under too.
This level of connectivity is likely only to increase. Recent route launches such as China Airlines’ Gatwick-Taipei service have been complemented by an overall rise in Northeast Asia’s popularity as a travel destination.
“More Brits are travelling to the region, as evidenced by our own sales and official statistics,” says John Warr, Global Sales Director of Wendy Wu Tours. “It’s becoming more accessible and flight costs are in keeping with the the distance flown – more expensive than Europe but less than Australia!”
The CEO of Norwegian Air, Bjorn Kjos, recently announced he wanted to expand his airline’s non-stop offering from the UK to include Tokyo and Beijing, while Finnair has also unveiled ambitious plans to drive the number of its flights between Europe and Asia, having lately increased the frequency of several of its services to the region.
And in the view of Matt Spiller, Agent Sales manager of InsideAsia Tours, the demand is very much there, with Japan being indicative of a wider trend. “Japan has seen a huge increase in popularity, and demand from the trade has also kept on trend,” he says. “2017 saw close to a 40% increase in sales on 2016 for us, and January 2018 is already 40% up on the same month in 2017.”
Click here for a map of direct flights from the UK and read on for a run-down of the region’s hubs, with the best of the in-direct flights and regional carriers too. .
There will soon be six cities in mainland China serviced by regular direct flights from the UK: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chongqing, Qingdao and Wuhan. All services depart from Heathrow, with the exception of Tianjin Airlines’ Gatwick-Chongqing route and Hainan Airlines’ Manchester-Beijing route. Flights typically take between 10 and 11½ hours.
The newest, China Southern Airline’s Heathrow-Wuhan service, takes off on May 30.
British Airways stopped its non-stop London-Chengdu service last year, but the overall outlook for UK-China flights is a positive one. Authorities agreed a fresh deal in December to increase the number of permitted passenger flights between the two countries by 50%, to 150 per week.
The existing routes all hold appeal for corporate travellers, but leisure travel is also on the up. Beijing and Shanghai in particular – one full of magnificent imperial treasures, the other buzzing with old-meets-new dynamism – are magnets for cultural tourists, as well as being established gateways to attractions elsewhere in the country.
A number of lesser-known airlines fly between Britain and China too. On their respective UK-China routes, China Eastern operates a three-class service on Boeing 737s (and offer onboard wifi), China Southern operates a three-class service on Boeing 787s, while Tianjin Airlines, Hainan Airlines and Beijing Capital Airlines all operate a two-class service on Airbus 330s. All provide meals and seatback entertainment as standard.
Indirect flights: One-stop options include Beijing via Abu Dhabi with Etihad, Shanghai via Amsterdam with KLM, Shanghai via Dubai with Emirates or Beijing via Kazakhstan with Air Astana, which will offer daily, non-stop flights from London to Astana from June 1 and has an innovative Economy Sleeper option, giving passengers a full row to lie out with a mattress on plus Business Class privileges like lounge access. Finnair will soon offer services via Helsinki to Nanjing, Xian and more. .
A flight time of around 11½ hours links the UK with the super-sized neon jungle that is Hong Kong. Full of street-level atmosphere and bold modern architecture, it’s a city packed with diverting activities, good food and cultural sights. There’s ample choice of direct flights from the UK, with Cathay Pacific alone offering 49 services a week. Demand looks likely to continue too, with Gatwick recently announcing a 42.4% year-on-year increase in passengers to Hong Kong.
The presence of a number of multinational companies in Hong Kong sees it draw large numbers of both business travellers and leisure visitors. And in addition to the existing services, it’s also been reported that the fast-expanding Hong Kong Airlines – based in the city – will be introducing non-stop flights to London later this year, as well as to New York and San Francisco.
Indirect flights: One-stop options from the UK are numerous, including via Mumbai with Jet Airways, via Helsinki with Finnair, via Emirates with Dubai and via Kuala Lumpur with Malaysia Airlines. Two-stop options exist with Air Astana.
There are no direct flights between the UK and Macao – a situation which is unlikely to change anytime soon – but the Portuguese colony is still simple to visit. Access via neighbouring Hong Kong is the most obvious way of getting there, with two companies running regular ferry services across the Pearl River Estuary. The journey takes as little as 55 minutes.
This year is due to see the completion of the multibillion-dollar Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, which will provide a direct road link between Hong Kong Airport and Macao. The destination itself is famous for its rich cultural mix of Chinese and European influences, as well as its Vegas-style casinos.
Indirect flights: Macao has its own international airport so there are plenty of one-stop options for Brits wishing to arrive by air. Hubs such as Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore and Bangkok all connect to Macao.
Seoul’s Incheon International Airport unveiled a new second terminal in January to coincide with the Winter Olympics. The airport currently handles direct daily flights from Heathrow with three different airlines, including both countries’ respective national carriers and the Korea-based Star Alliance member Air Asiana. Flight time from the UK is around 11 hours.
Seoul itself is an economic powerhouse and immersive destination, full of sharp technology, teeming markets and colourful festivals.
Indirect flights: Plenty of European airlines offer flights to Seoul: via Paris with Air France, via Warsaw with LOT, via Moscow with Aeroflot and via Helsinki with Finnair.
Japan Airlines is investing $10 million into developing a new-generation supersonic aircraft – there’s talk of it entering service in the mid-2020s. This sense of ambition and futurism sums up what makes Japan such a special travel proposition. There’s arguably nowhere on the planet quite so as hyper-modern as Tokyo, but the country also clings tightly to its time-honoured traditions. It all makes for a thrilling place to visit. Japan Airlines, British Airways and ANA all offer direct services from Heathrow to Tokyo – some flights arrive into Tokyo Narita Airport, while others arrive into Tokyo Haneda Airport. The former is larger, the latter is closer to the city.
Indirect services: Various options exist for British travellers looking to save money (or otherwise benefit) by taking a one-stop service to Tokyo. These include via Rome or Milan with Alitalia, via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines and via Moscow with Aeroflot. .
This adventure-packed, under-visited and hauntingly beautiful country made it onto Lonely Planet’s Best of Travel list for 2017, partly thanks to the work taking place on a major new international airport for capital city Ulaanbataar. The facility recently announced a scheduled opening date of 2019 – although whether it results in any direct flights from the UK remains to be seen.
Indirect services: Brits wanting to experience Mongolia’s vast landscapes and nomadic cultures can reach the country without much problem. One-stop services include via Moscow with Aeroflot, via Seoul with Korean Air and via Beijing with Air China. .
China Airlines launched a direct Gatwick-Taipei route in December 2017, initially flying four times a week into the Taiwanese capital but increasing to five times weekly in March. It’s a positive move for the destination, which welcomed more than 60,000 British holidaymakers for the first time last year. People tend to visit for the natural scenery of the countryside, the urban buzz of Taipei, the excellent food and a cultural offering – from hot-spring resorts to aboriginal festivals.
Indirect services: EVA Air serves Taipei from Heathrow with a stopover in Bangkok. It’s also possible for Brits to reach Taiwan via Hanoi with Vietnam Airlines, via Dubai with Emirates and via Amsterdam with KLM.
Northeast Asia is well served by regional flights, with China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan all home to multiple regional airlines, making it simple to get from one hub to another, or to travel domestically.
Key regional carriers include Juneyao Airlinesand China Express Airlines in China, Cathay Dragon and Hong Kong Airlines in Hong Kong, ANA Wings in Japan and UNI Air in Taiwan.