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I'll go skiing next March and wanted to have a brief look at the flights already, just to see what times are available. So I queried Google Flights and it showed me 51(!) direct flights that day (3rd March 2018)! And they're not code-shares being listed multiple times. I know we're quite lucky here in London as there are frequent direct flights to so many destinations, but that strikes me as a bit much. Assuming I did the maths and counting right, even if they were flying 24 hours a day that'd be one flight every 28 minutes.

So what makes Geneva-London such a special connection that there's the need for so many flights?

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    Both cities are finance industry hubs? (This is just speculating at the reason tho') – Colin Mackay Oct 25 '17 at 7:34
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    Geneva is a massive UN hub, as well as the WTO, Red Cross, Red Crescent and CERN among lots of others. Also a huge number of companies have HQs in Geneva. – Moo Oct 25 '17 at 7:53
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    What strikes me is that easyJet, which operates most of the flights in question, has more flights on a Saturday (March 3rd 2018) than on the regular working days (Mo-Fr) and many of the flights are from London Luton Airport. That does not seem suitable to fit industry/finance demands. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Oct 25 '17 at 8:05
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    Isn't Geneva the nearest major airport for the French Alps? Early March is still ski season... – AakashM Oct 25 '17 at 8:19
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    All those bankers in London need to move their cash into their swiss accounts. – Aganju Oct 25 '17 at 19:02
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Geneva airport punches a little above its weight (population) because the city hosts many international organisations (it's the UN most important location after New York and was the League of Nations seat before that) and some banking and other services for the rich and famous. Many powerful wealthy people from Europe, the Middle East and Africa have villas on the lake shore or in Divonne-les-Bains (that's in France), shop in the rue du Rhône and get treated at Geneva hospital (it can see half a dozen heads of state or government a year and allows you to arrange anything from a private room to a private wing during your treatment).

This accounts for the good service by the main Middle Eastern carriers and also for flights to some obscure destinations (although most have disappeared in recent years). But I don't think this is the main reason for low-cost short-haul flights to European destinations. In the last decade, the number of those has increased a lot, with a low-cost pier (longer walks and no jet bridge) catering specifically to them, presumably with lower fees than other gates or large hubs like Zurich.

For flights from random cities in the UK, the main factor is probably that Geneva is just a convenient location to fly to to skiing resorts in the French, Swiss or even Italian Alps. In season, there is a long row of shuttle bus operators to all the main resorts in the Northern French Alps waiting just outside the main exit. Another detail supporting this theory is that many flights from London (but also from other places in the UK and some in the Netherlands or Scandinavia) are seasonal and/or limited to the week-end. In fact, according to Wikipedia, there is an entire terminal which is only used during the winter charter season.

Finally, “EasyJet” is actually several distinct companies. The largest one by far is the British company, which created the brand. But there are smaller airlines using the same brand, including EasyJet Switzerland. It's actually the remnant of an earlier venture, which was partly bought and rebranded as an EasyJet franchise. It is based out of Geneva Cointroin airport, making it EasyJet's second hub after London-Luton and accounting for 40% of the airport's traffic according to Wikipedia.

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    I think an additional factor is that budget airlines generally avoid Zurich, because the fees are higher. – drat Oct 25 '17 at 9:50
  • @drat Good point, I added something about that in the answer, thanks! – Relaxed Oct 25 '17 at 11:36
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    Don't forget that the Swiss ski stations in the Alps are quite loved by many (relatively wealthy, given the high prices) British. Even (but substantially less) in summer when hiking and other outdoor activities take over. – Pierre Henry Oct 25 '17 at 15:24
  • is there not also something in geneva vs. zurich to do with EU rules and Geneva airport technically being half in France? – the other one Oct 26 '17 at 12:39
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Geneva is the second biggest city in Switzerland after Zurich. Given its world-class nature and the presence of big NGOs and the predominance of finance and banking sector, it does attract the frequent fliers. Geneva has many things that interest the rich of this world... go shopping in the city center streets and see all the clockwork and jewelry shops!

The second point is its central location in the Alps. People don't land in GVA just to stay in the city: many transfer to travel further inland. It is simply the closest airport with regular traffic to most of the renowned ski resorts. Many transfer shuttles wait behind the arrivals door to bring passengers to all the famous ski places in Switzerland, and also in neighboring France. The border is right behind the runway, opposite the terminal, and the airport has a landside sector in France with maybe the only landside customs checkpoint I have ever seen in any airport. Chamonix is easily reached by road in 1 hour. When landing in GVA, you can quickly walk to the station, less than 5 minutes by foot separate baggage belts and train tracks. From there leaves a half-hourly train to Brig serving all of Valais, the canton where the biggest resorts are located like Verbier, Crans-Montana, Zermatt, Saas-Fee... Most require an additional transfer but transportation is very good after all, including availability of cogwheel trains linking the main railroad and the resorts.

There is another airport closer to the Swiss slopes, which is Sion (SIR). It has very little scheduled traffic but a runway capable of landing 737s. It used to survive due to the presence of the army who closed its base recently; this airport sees some seasonal ski traffic with weekly flights on Saturdays. Swiss Air tried to see if the route is viable, and a new airline, Powdair, will use it as it is centered on ski destinations. Approach is difficult due to the mountains and the hospital that must be avoided during descent. Smaller aircraft like Embraer are used, which opened the possibility of operating out of London City. The terminal is a small building with no jet bridges and just 4 check-in counters. Sion is very close to the big resorts but Geneva has a huge advantage with the traffic it can handle.

What's more, easyJet has a subsidiary, easyJet Switzerland, which uses GVA as the primary hub. Look for the Swiss flag on planes and the "registration number" beginning by HB- which indicates Switzerland.

Your question is totally understandable as the airport is damn small for a "regular" airport, at least on the landside. It really gets crowded during peak times. Even more strange but true: for the same reasons, you can fly nonstop to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, even New York City with both Swiss and United serving the route!

Concerning Zurich which is the big hub of Switzerland, it likely has bigger costs for airlines. Zurich is located on the plateau, further away from the mountains, making it less interesting for ski destinations. Maybe the ski resorts of Graubunden, Interlaken, Lucerne area and central/eastern Switzerland are better served from ZRH than GVA. Even the resorts of upper Valais like Zermatt can still be conveniently within reach by train from the airport since the Lotschberg base tunnel opened in 2007 and shortened train travel times. Other big airports close to the Alps are Lyon St Exupéry, France (LYS) and Milan Malpensa, Italy (MXP). Both are further, Lyon has no direct rail link, maybe busses. Milan can be an advantage on the air fares; many flights are cheaper from Milan than from Switzerland to identical destinations.

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    This is a good summary of why Geneva might be a popular international destination, but it does not seem to address the direct question of why it enjoys such regular service to London, for example compared with Amsterdam or Frankfurt, which are also major hubs and financial centers. – choster Oct 26 '17 at 3:27
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A lot of British people like to go skiing. The "standard" way to do this is to book a weeks holiday Saturday-Saturday => the hotels and chalets transfer their punters on Saturdays, with the outgoing guests leaving in the morning and the new ones arriving in the afternoon.

(If you don't do this, you either have to spend money with a specialist agent, use e.g. AirBnB, or know people).

Geneva has many of the popular ski resorts in France and Switzerland (and even Italy) within a reasonable drive and is possibly cheaper and less congested for the airlines than Zurich.

So it gets a lot of Saturday flights.

Source: I used to ski a lot and knew people in the biz.

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Geneva is extremely important for commodities trading (about half the worlds coffee is traded through there) due to favorable tax treatments. However a lot of people are based out of London, fly in Monday and out on a Friday. It has international organizations like the UN, UNHCR, CERN, IPO, WTO and the ICRC. Many commute because housing is expensive in Switzerland and many are on time limited contracts. Better to keep your family in the UK and just have a small apartment in Geneva. Note that if you live outside London, sometimes you will find that other airports suit you better, a colleague lived closer to Gatwick and travelled from there. Another lived closer to Stansted and travelled from there, taking advantage of budget flights.

If you want to fly to Geneva, there are a few intercontinental flights going direct but mostly you want to go to a nearby hub. Zurich is almost too close which leaves Paris, London, Frankfurt or Amsterdam.

London has multiple airports. The intercontinental flights mostly connect via Heathrow but that still leaves Gatwick and to a lesser extent, Stansted and London City. Gatwick acts as a smaller hub but is also for people living in the South East of the UK. Stansted is good for budget travelers and the holiday crowd. Others have noted the proximity to the western parts of the Swiss and French Alps. Most British ski holiday flights are out of Stansted or Gatwick. Lastly, London City serves those in the finance industry and has the benefit of being fast to board and a short journey time for direct flights of about 35 minutes.

Frankfurt or Amsterdam are big, but they are single airports and even Frankfurt runs hourly flights to and from Geneva. If you take all the London airports together, it is very easy to see why it is a major connection.

I have omitted talking about Geneva's role as a holiday hub. Its location provides a good gateway to the Western Swiss as well as the French Alps for skiing and other tourism. Most holiday traffic is around the weekend as people will typically fly in on a Saturday, go to their resort and then fly out a week or two weeks later thus Saturday and to a slightly lesser extent, Sunday becomes a peak for budget flights, particularly in Winter.

  • How is a single airport a disadvantage if you need to catch an intercontinental flight? That should make them even more attractive than London for this purpose. – Relaxed Oct 27 '17 at 12:46
  • People who are connecting onwards have a choice where to catch their long-haul flight. To be honest, there is not a lot between say Amsterdam, Frankfurt and LHR, However, LHR is just one of London's airpoprts. There are some connections via LGW/Gatwick as well as those non-connecting flights to City and Stansted. This is also why I didn't mention Paris which also has more than one airport, but less than London. – hughk Oct 28 '17 at 14:15
  • And if given the choice, wouldn't anyone in their right mind chose Amsterdam, Rome or Madrid over a trek between Stansted and Heathrow? – Relaxed Oct 28 '17 at 21:44
  • This was okay as a an additional answer (although I still don't get the point you're trying to make about airports and connections) but does not make sense as the accepted answer, you should edit it to include the points made in other answers (especially seasonal flights to ski resorts). Also, why would people working for international organisations be based in London specifically? And how many commodity-trading international commuter types fly EasyJet to Luton or Stansted? Or on Saturdays? – Relaxed Nov 27 '17 at 8:45
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Others have explained well why there could be so much demand between London and Geneva. Since you asked why there are so many flights, however, I felt it was worth pointing out an extra angle, which answers the related question: why not simply fewer flights, with much larger planes?

For business heavy short-haul routes such as this, competition between airlines is more likely to be on the basis of schedule and frequency than price. Passengers travelling on business (i.e., that is the reason for their trip - not that they are necessarily flying in business class) often hold expensive semi-flexible (or even more expensive fully flexible) tickets, to ensure that they can get home sooner should their meetings end earlier, or to allow them to run over if needed.

Obviously, the value of this flexibility depends on how many flights there are available to choose between that day, which leads to some interesting game theory. Two airlines might both cover the day with flights, not because they believe there's enough passengers to fill every seat, but knowing they would cede all the lucrative flexibility-seeking passengers to the other airline if they had a lighter schedule.

There is also an operational benefit, in that if one flight encounters technical difficulties and has to be dropped from the schedule, it won't be too long until the next one. For routes with well-funded passengers making regular journeys, this reliability can help secure their long term loyalty (especially if status in the frequent flyer scheme improves their chances of getting one of the seats on that next flight).

(All this is in contrast to the typical leisure passenger, for whom - based on tolerance for awkward timings, secondary airports and the general LCC experience - price is seemingly the deciding factor. Relatedly, most holidaymakers fully intend to take their flights, so heavily underestimate the extent to which business bookings change or are cancelled outright - and hence the use by airlines of overbooking.)

  • Very large corporates - large enough to have not just their own travel agent but their own deals with airlines, with fares not available to the general public - certainly want those fares to come with flexibility. Of course, they may then go and buy a cheaper public fare when the difference is substantial and the flexibility isn't needed, but there's at least some demand for these products. On the other hand, when BA simplified its shorthaul fares they were willing to include same-day changes on 'plus' fares, so must have determined they wouldn't lose too much revenue by doing so. – Gray Taylor Oct 27 '17 at 13:18
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    @anomuse My employer has negotiated fixed fully flexible business class fares on most of our popular routes. The price is the same independent of the date of purchase and is typically as cheap or cheaper than the non flex fares available to the public. On top of that the Firm gets a big rebate at the end of the year based on the number of full flex public fares we purchased. For that reason we are banned from buying cheaper tickets as they are not actually cheaper. – Calchas Oct 27 '17 at 22:18
  • I think there are a few economic reasons not to use aircraft larger than an A321/737 on shorthaul: while a few sectors/times would fill a widebody, most would not and it would be underutilised (unless mostly used on longhaul, which would be hard to optimise); widebodies have different crew ratings to narrowbody, so airlines don't like mixing them; it takes quite a lot longer to turn a widebody around, reducing its utilisation on shorthaul. – Rich Oct 29 '17 at 22:48
  • @Rich, from my perspective (looking out the window of BRS at Embraer 145's), the 737 is already quite a large plane! I was thinking more of several A319s vs fewer A321s, rather than suggesting they scrap the lot for a daily A380. Although if they did that, I'd be first to sign up for a ticket - I'm exploiting the existence of a 787 on MAD-LHR (presumably for IAG cargo reasons) to get a rather better shorthaul business class experience this weekend! – Gray Taylor Oct 30 '17 at 10:20
  • I see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EasyJet#Current_fleet Easyjet have ordered the A321, presumably to let them optimize their loads better. Flying shorthaul on a 787 would have the disadvantage of taking longer while everyone boards and disembarks - except that most European flying takes forever anyway (I live in NZ, the land of the 30 minute checkin) – Rich Oct 31 '17 at 22:58

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