Airline routes can make your dream vacation a step closer to home or a world away, but how do airlines decide where to fly? The team at CT explains.

By Annabel Fuller


Have you ever wondered why there is no direct flight from your hometown to where you want to go? But obscure flight paths like Perth to Mauritius, Boston to Birmingham and Johannesburg to Sao Paulo operate daily. The team at DL wanted to know more, here’s what we found.

Route planning is critical to the success of any airline. To remain competitive airlines must add new profitable destinations; however, failed routes can result in empty seats and losses of millions of dollars to the airline.

An AA flight from Chicago to Beijing, two of the world’s largest cities, appeared profitable on paper, however, after eight years in the air, the connection reported losses of $80m (USD) under its target and ceased operation.

So, how do airlines avoid disasters to ensure the long-term success of their routes, and how does this impact your travel plans?

How many people want to go there?

Before considering any new routes, an airline must determine if there is enough demand. Most airlines use aviation market intelligence tools such as Skyscanner and Google flights to analyse popular routes. Meaning the more you search for a flight path you want, the more likely it is to become a reality.

The data on where people want to travel can also come from the airline itself. When the airline sees a pattern of people connecting from A to B then onto C, they can create a route directly from A to C.  An example of such is Australian airline Jetstar creating a direct route from Adelaide to Bali to cut out the connection in either Perth, Melbourne or Sydney.

Knowing how many people want to fly and if there is a year-round demand is the first step to determining the success of a proposed flight path. An airline must also have a suitable aircraft in their fleet that is both economically viable and able to generate maximal profits.

But is it worth paying more to skip a layover, CT uncovered…

How much are passengers willing to pay?

Airlines are businesses. And regardless of demand, they will only operate economically successful routes. The amount they can charge for fares on each new route will determine its success and longevity. Passengers have proven time and time again that they are willing to pay a premium for direct flights.

Qantas has recently proven this with their new non-stop direct flight from Perth to London. At the time of writing, roundtrip costs approximately AUD 2000 where-as the same flight with a tight one hour and fifteen-minute connection in Singapore costs AUD 1700. However, that’s not the only factor to consider when airlines price a flight. Competition and airline partnerships are also taken into consideration. However, passengers often choose loyalty over price when it comes to flying.

For example, there are three routes between Australia and China, operated by Australian airlines, as opposed to the 43 routes operated by Chinese airlines. The reason for this is that people are loyal to airlines they are culturally and linguistically familiar with and as there are far more Chinese people visiting Australia than vice versa, there is no need for Australian airlines to support additional routes.

Other considerations

For some airlines, route planning is about more than the financials, it’s also about slowing down the competition.

After the collapse of now-defunct airline Thomas Cook, competitor Tui announced new flights to many of Thomas Cook’s most successful routes including London to Manchester, Birmingham and international destination Antalya. Rival, British Airways responded with their own announcement of additional flights to cities around the UK and a new flight to the Turkish resort town Antalya.

Despite multiple pre-existing daily flights, British Airways added additional flights to slow its competitor’s growth in the market the airline already dominates.

To finally answer the question of why there is no direct flight between your city and your dream getaway, other factors have to been considered such as suitable airport facilities, landing slots, governmental approval… but all these can be overcome if the airline believes in the route.

Sometimes there’s no sure-fire way to make a successful route choice. Sometimes carriers just have to start flying it and see how it goes, which is great for travellers like you and I who just want to reach our destination sooner.