EU foreign policy council officials reportedly received a note on Friday recommending that they consider booking cheaper flights between Brussels and Helsinki as an alternative to pricey direct flights with Finland’s national carrier Finnair.
According to a report by Finnish news agency STT, the message noted that during Finland’s six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union which began in July, the number of trips between the two capitals is expected to increase significantly.
"On Friday a message came from the budgeting department to the entire staff urging [people] to use other airlines than Finnair for budgetary reasons, because their [other airlines’] prices might be up to one-third of what Finnair charges," foreign policy council employee Tuula Peussa told STT.
Peussa said she did not know whether or not the same message had been sent to other EU organisations.
"Because the price difference of a KLM, Lufthansa or Air France flight with a direct Finnair flight is quite significant (a flight via Amsterdam, Munich or Paris may cost only one-third of Finnair’s suggested price) and the layovers are very short (40 – 45 minutes) and in some cases departures and arrivals are at Brussels’ Midi railway station, we strongly recommend that you consider using cheaper alternatives where possible," the message urged.
In practice, the cheaper option for EU officials would be to purchase a flight with a layover or to begin the trip to Helsinki by train as some airlines offer combination rail-flight tickets.
Less than €100 to Oslo and Tallinn, €280 to Helsinki
There is certainly a noticeable difference between the prices of Finnair flights compared to other alternatives. Finnair is the only airline providing direct flights between Brussels and Helsinki so there is no competition in terms of direct connections. However passengers on this route are typically EU employees and do not pay the fares themselves.
A return flight on Finnair from Brussels to Helsinki at the beginning of November would set passengers back a minimum of 280 euros. The same trip at the same time with either SAS or Air Baltic with a single one-hour stopover would cost around 170 euros. The price difference between Finnair and other carriers would be at least 100 euros, even for flights as far ahead as next February.
Fights with stopovers are known to be cheaper than direct options, but Finnair’s Brussels-Helsinki flights are also expensive compared to other direct flights to destinations like Oslo, Stockholm or Tallinn. A direct return flight in November from Brussels to any of these three cities would cost less than 100 euros, and would be even as low as 20-odd euros if passengers are willing to hop on a budget Ryanair flight from a most distant airport. Getting to Helsinki would cost nearly 300 euros.
No competition direct to Brussels
In addition to Finnair’s costliness, it appears that the flag carrier’s flights to Brussels are among its most expensive. While Finnair will fly passengers return from Amsterdam for about 130 euros, it would be more than 100 euros more if flights depart from Brussels.
Finnair communications chief Päivyt Tallqvist said that the airline’s fares are based on demand, time of booking, services included such as luggage as well as the flexibility of the ticket and competition – there’s none on the Brussels route.
"Flights pricing is market-based. For example, there are other airlines flying direct on the Stockholm route so the fare must be competitive," she noted.
Finnair’s fare differ so much from other airlines’ that Peussa told STT that she and many others had already switched from Finnair to cheaper stopover flights even before Friday’s recommendation was issued. She pointed out that the savings are especially noticeable during the holiday period when fares are generally higher than usual.
Choices have environmental impact
Although cheaper flights are easier on the pocket, they may have a more detrimental climate impact than direct flights.
Planes may burn up to 25 percent of the fuel consumed in an entire flight during takeoff, airports operator Finavia noted.
"People who are interested in the emissions impact of their flights will hopefully also consider flight emissions. In other words, the most direct route possible is also usually the best option from an emissions perspective," Tallqvist declared.
STT was unable to reach a representative of the foreign policy committee to comment on the reported message. However EU Commission spokesperson Johannes Bahrke said on a general level that the commission and foreign policy organ had strict guidelines that all staff should travel as cost-effectively as possible.
"This includes a ceiling on hotel expenses, depending on the location in addition to rules on selecting the most appropriate modes of transport," Bahrke said via email.