At Wednesday's (31 July) press conference at the Budapest Airport, LOT Polish Airlines presented its new flight offer from Liszt Ferenc airport. The carrier will fly to Seoul, Belgrade, Prague, Sofia and Stuttgart.

Without a doubt, the most attractive novelty will be the connection from Budapest to Seoul Incheon. Flights will begin on 22 September 2019. The new route will be served by Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, which takes on board up to 252 passengers in three classes - 18 in Business Class, 21 in Premium Economy and 213 in Economy.

Flights to Seoul will be operated three times per week. Polish carrier will also develop short-haul routes to Belgrade, Prague, Sofia and Stuttgart. These four new European services will be launched from the next summer season, namely from 30 March 2020.

Grounding of Boeing 737 MAX delays network expansion

LOT will also postpone the start of its services to Brussels and Bucharest. These routes were previously scheduled to begin with 2 September 2019, however due to the operational situation caused by the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX, it is decided to inaugurate these flights from 30 March 2020.

In total, next spring, LOT will operate from Budapest Airport to 12 cities on three continents. In addition to the new routes mentioned above, LOT earlier launched flights to Krakow, London City, New York and Chicago. In order to handle new European flights Polish carrier is about to base three additional Embraer 195 in Budapest. Thus, from the next summer season, LOT's fleet in Hungary will consist of five aircraft (4 E-jets and one B787-8).

New flights to Prague and Stuttgart will be operated twice per day, while flights to Sofia and Belgrade will be operated daily.

Budapest to be the next hub of LOT

Jost Lammers, CEO of Budapest Airport, expects that there will be 100 000 passengers per year on the Budapest-Seoul route. Currently, LOT employs 80 flight crew members and a dozen or so Hungarian pilots to operate flights from Budapest.

Recruitment of new employees is ongoing. By the end of the year, LOT plans to employ about 150 pilots to work in its bases in Warsaw and Budapest. According to the airline's representatives, the launch of new flights from Budapest is another element of the strategy of profitable growth aimed at making LOT the leader in Central and Eastern Europe.

Asia in exchange for US

Rumours of LOT starting flights from Hungary to South Korea appeared already a few months ago. However, the announcement of the opening of a new long-haul route less than two months in advance cannot be considered an advantage.

It is difficult to be enthusiastic about the forecast of the new route's results for another reason. By opening a route to Seoul, LOT is simultaneously suspending flights from Budapest to Chicago during the winter season and reducing frequency of flights to New York (from four to three per week).

It seems that the two American connections opened in May 2018 did not live up to their hopes, although LOT representatives said that after the first year of operation the results were satisfactory. Shifting forces and resources to South Korea may indicate a search for more profitable solutions. It is also very likely that LOT enjoys considerable discounts on airport charges in Budapest.

Too late for regional network

The poor performance of long-haul flights from Budapest is an example of the difficulty in establishing new routes without adequate support from the regional feeder network.

LOT is to be commended for its attempt to build it, but this is delayed due to the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX. Financial issues remain an open question, so can Polish carrier afford such expansion?

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