London is by far my favorite city, and many people in Honolulu apparently feel the same. An old poll (5-6 years ago) said that 50% of polled people would go to London on that flight if it existed. The airlines are quite definitely aware of this, as Hawaiian Airlines responded a year later by saying they would make a direct flight. But it never happened, and no one has heard anything from them on the issue since. (This was more than four years ago.) I have considered the following:

  • Capabilities of planes (More than capable of making the flight)
  • Popularity of flight (The poll)
  • Flight restrictions (None)

After my pondering, I have concluded that there should be no problems connecting the two popular destinations. So why are there no flights? They would mean certain profit for the first airline to offer the journey. (They could charge whatever they wanted to.)

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    $\begingroup$ "They would mean certain profit for the first airline to offer the journey." What makes you think that you know better than the people who run actual airlines? "(They could charge whatever they wanted to.)" No they couldn't: it's already possible to fly from Honolulu to London, just not direct; people will only pay so much extra for a direct flight versus one with connections. $\endgroup$ Oct 19 '16 at 22:55
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    $\begingroup$ I would like to go to London as well. But I always find an excuse to stay lazy. If it's not "there are no direct flights", I'll make up another one. $\endgroup$
    – Agent_L
    Oct 20 '16 at 8:19
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    $\begingroup$ "They could charge whatever they wanted to" -- if the poll had asked, "would you pay $100,000 to take this flight" they would have got less than 50% of "yes" answers. So they can only charge what the market will bear, and you don't report what those polled said they'd be willing to pay for this flight (let alone what they'd really pay)! I also wonder who they polled: if n% of Hawaiians actually have visited London, then is it really true that (50-n)% of Hawaiians are prevented from visiting London solely because they currently have to change flights? $\endgroup$ Oct 20 '16 at 9:37
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    $\begingroup$ British Airways looked at this but there are many other destinations in North America they would rather serve. (For instance you may wish to keep an eye on MSY's news website today.) The fact is that there is not enough business class travel between London and Hawaii to justify the high cost of running a sixteen hour non-stop; and you have to remember that BA want to use their aircraft in the most profitable way possible, not just run routes because they might be marginally profitable. For those of us going to HNL regularly from London, it is easy enough to change planes in LAX, PHX or DFW. $\endgroup$
    – Calchas
    Oct 20 '16 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Calchas Yeah, I know BA has been looking at several different U.S. cities for possible expansion, especially with their 787s. BNA has been hoping to attract them for a while, but hasn't won out so far. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Oct 20 '16 at 17:56

Hawaiian Airlines only recently started acquiring airplanes (A330-200) that are capable of that range. According to Wikipedia, London and Paris routes were discussed.

On November 27, 2007, Hawaiian Airlines signed a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Airbus for 24 long-range jets priced at $4.4 billion. The order included six Airbus A330-200s with a further six purchase rights and six Airbus A350-800s with a further six purchase rights - plans to fly to Paris and London were discussed.—Wikipedia

My speculation is that buying a landing slot for London or Paris at the moment is too expensive for them.

Busy airports in Europe don't have enough slots for everyone. Airlines end up trading those slots.

Allocated landing slots may have a commercial value and can be traded between airlines. Continental Airlines paid $209 million for four pairs of landing slots from GB Airways at London Heathrow Airport, \$52.3 million each.—Wikipedia

enter image description here

6,300 NM (7,200 mi) distance.—gcmap.com

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    $\begingroup$ "My speculation is that buying a landing slot for London or Paris at the moment is too expensive for them." Indeed; in fact the price has risen to US$75m as of 2016 (onemileatatime.boardingarea.com/2016/02/16/…) The LHR slots market is not liquid either. You have to wait for an airline to be willing to sell you a slot. $\endgroup$
    – Calchas
    Oct 20 '16 at 12:10

Simply, because no airline has determined the route makes economic sense.

A poll doesn't necessarily translate into a ready market of passengers. Sure, lots of people might check a box on a survey saying they'd like to see such a thing, but does that really translate to thousands of people actually a significant sum of money for the service? Would enough of them travel frequently enough at a high-enough price point to make the service worthwhile? There's no guarantee of "certain profit," and considerable money could be lost investing in such a route if it turns out not to be a success. A few reasons why it might not be a slam dunk:

  • Some passengers already travel between London and Hawaii, through connecting flights. A non-stop flight might cause more people to fly this route, but it would also cannibalize existing business from the connecting flights, meaning you'd need to get further customers to make up the difference.

  • LHR-HNL is about 7,200 miles. As you note, this should be within the capabilities of long-range aircraft, but we'd still be talking about a flight on the order of 16 hours. This is quite the distance. Would enough passengers want to travel this long between the cities? To put it another way, are passengers willing to travel that long also willing to endure a bit longer of a journey by making it a connecting flight?

  • The airline operating the route needs aircraft capable of such long flights. If they don't already operate a suitable aircraft, they need to acquire some and train pilots and mechanics and ground staff, an operation that takes years and hundreds of millions of dollars.

  • Hawaii is generally considered a leisure destination, and it's generally a fairly expensive one at that. Londoners have access to lots of rather inexpensive flights on low-cost-carriers to beach resorts within at most a few hours flying time. Many are in low cost of living countries where accommodation is fairly cheap. Tenerife, Greece, Southern Spain, Mallorca, Cyprus, and a number of Eastern European destinations are all rather accessible, and operators frequently offer packaged trips. Such destinations may not be exactly the same as all the splendor of Hawaii, but they're much cheaper and don't require 16 hour flights to get there.

  • Will the route be popular with business travelers? Keeping such a service profitable is far easier if you have a regular stream of business travelers between the two cities, especially if they're willing to pay for premium cabins and last-minute bookings. Ultra-longhaul flights without a large supply of business travelers just don't work.

  • Landing slots at Heathrow, the most logical place for such a flight due to its connections, are in very short supply and thus quite valuable. This further increases costs.

  • Ultra-longhaul flights work best when they're connected with an extensive route network, so they can receive feeder passengers from and carry passengers to other connecting flights. That's why they generally serve major airline hubs. Honolulu, because of its location, isn't an ideal high-density hub. Its main links are to other Hawaiian and Pacific islands, along with the US West Coast and East Asia, generally to cities that are already served by direct flights to London. As such, adding such a flight would not be that useful in helping an airline build its network. In addition, if Hawaiian were to operate the route, it would need to develop partnerships with European airlines to build a route network there (so as to facilitate booking, of say, HNL-LHR-CDG), a process that could involve lengthy and expensive negotiations.

  • Is there significant air cargo demand? A very profitable cargo route may help make up for lower passenger demand, but is there a lot of demand to ship cargo between the two cities? The amount of cargo payload you can take also depends on the aircraft you choose. Some aircraft do have the range to make the flight, but would have payload restrictions, which reduces profitability. Larger aircraft may have more capacity, but may be harder to fill.

Also, according to this forum post, a service was operated in the early 80s (with a fuel stop), and it was rather unpopular and thus unprofitable.

All that said, ultimately, all we can do is speculate. Airlines study potential routes extensively, but they don't release their internal numbers. If one thought it made economic sense, they would introduce the new service.

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    $\begingroup$ @SimonRichter: It's also possible that the nearby destinations (Tenerife, Greece, etc.) will become slightly less convenient after Brexit, causing more UKers to take a fresh look at Hawaii. But I agree with your general point: the economic outlook is uncertain. $\endgroup$ Oct 19 '16 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelSeifert People's ideas of what is and is not convenient would have to change a heck of a lot for them to want to take an umpteen-hour flight to Hawaii instead of a 4-hour flight to Tenerife or Greece. $\endgroup$ Oct 19 '16 at 23:01
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    $\begingroup$ You might also point out the fuel usage and how few passengers you could carry with all that fuel. See "fuel tanker in the air" comment here. $\endgroup$
    – oldtechaa
    Oct 20 '16 at 2:33
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    $\begingroup$ You're assuming that most of the demand will come from the London end, which contradicts what the OP has posited (the demand mainly being driven from the Honolulu end) $\endgroup$ Oct 20 '16 at 3:12
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    $\begingroup$ @SteveJessop Barbados has a booming financial industry because of its 1% corporation tax on off-shores and favourable tax treaty arrangements with the US and UK. I would not class it as a pure bucket-and-spade route; there are a few major corporates who are buying a lot of the F and J inventory on each flight. But I don't really imagine any company willing to step forward and underwrite LHR-HNL. $\endgroup$
    – Calchas
    Oct 20 '16 at 14:23

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines simply doesn't have any aircraft that can operate the flight.

For now, Hawaiian Airlines does not consider its A330-200s to have sufficient range to reach London with the desired payloads and it's not yet sure whether its upcoming A330neos will be able to, either.

Flights to London are a goal but may be at the limit of what’s attainable after the carrier swapped its order for Airbus Group SE A350-800 jets to the shorter-range A330neo in 2014, Hawaiian Holdings Inc. CEO Mark Dunkerley said in an interview Wednesday.

“We certainly hope the answer is yes but we don’t have all the information we need,” he said. “It’s going to depend on what our final seating configuration is and therefore the weight of the Neo and its exact performance and statistics when it’s actually built.”

Source: Recent Bloomberg article citing Hawaiian's CEO

Note from the above quote that Hawaiian has replaced the A350 order mentioned in another answer with an order for A330neos instead, so it currently has no A350s on order.

One interesting note from that same interview is that Hawaiian is also looking at possibly acquiring some of the cheap A380s currently floating around on the market. However, it's considering these for its current high-demand markets such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Tokyo, not expansion to Europe.

Dunkerley, 52, said the airline is looking seriously at whether the Airbus A380 might have a role to play within its network, especially on routes such as those from Honolulu to Los Angeles, Tokyo and Las Vegas, which it serves with smaller wide-body planes six, three and two times daily respectively.

The argument for using the superjumbo, which might be available on attractive terms either from Airbus or, soon, in the second-hand market, isn’t conclusive and Hawaiian needs convincing of the business case, Dunkerley said.

In General

The main problem overall with direct flights between Europe and Hawaii (on any airline) is what Zach mentioned in his answer: It's an ultra-long-haul leisure route.

It's very hard to make the numbers work for such a route, as airlines typically rely on selling expensive close-in-booking and premium-cabin tickets to business travelers as well as relying on them to keep load factors up in order to turn a profit for their ultra-long-haul routes. This route would also be competing with several existing single-stop routes with connections in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle, etc. These routes are already economically feasible due to the much higher demand for traffic to London from these connecting points (and other cities feeding to them) than from Hawaii. Similarly, demand from the U.S. mainland to Hawaii is much higher than from Europe to Hawaii, so those existing flights remain viable.

With that said, there are recent rumors regarding the Swiss leisure-route-focused airline Edelweiss possibly starting a route to Hawaii from Zurich soon using A340-300s, but this is presently still unconfirmed. The economics of this seem pretty sketchy, though, and the "as early as December 2016" start date mentioned seems even more sketchy.


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