If all goes according to plan, Malaysia’s Air Asia X will return to Europe on October 30 after an absence of four years.

But don’t get too excited. Instead of returning to London or Paris or any other major city in Northern Europe, the low-cost carrier (LCC) intends to opt for Istanbul and Barcelona.

Airlineroute reports that Air Asia X has filed to operate a daily service linking Kuala Lumpur with Barcelona via Istanbul.

The daily flight would be operated by a modern A330-300 and the planned flight schedules are:

  • D7001 departs Kuala Lumpur 1000, arrives Istanbul 1500
  • D7001 departs Istanbul 1630, arrives Barcelona 1920
  • D7002 departs Barcelona 2050, arrives Istanbul 0120
  • D7002 departs Istanbul 0250, arrives Kuala Lumpur 1930

As noted above, Air Asia X last flew to Europe in 2012 with services to both London (initially Stansted but later Gatwick) and Paris (Orly).

But both routes, although popular, proved unprofitable because the airline was unable to raise fares to the level it would have liked. And so Air Asia X withdrew from both cities four years ago.

Intense competition prevented Air Asia X from hiking prices.  As Business Traveller reported at the time, there were many occasions where no-frills Air Asia X (by the time all the extras were included) was actually more expensive than the Gulf carriers.

Moreover the Gulf carriers serve cities the length and breadth of Europe whereas Air Asia X was confined to two destinations.

At the time Air Asia X blamed the UK government’s APD tax as the reason for quitting the market. But that did not explain why Air Asia X also axed Paris seeing as France imposes no APD.

However one thing is for sure. Air Asia X was disadvantaged by having to operate thirsty A340-300s (which were acquired from Air Canada) at a time of high fuel costs.

Today fuel prices are far cheaper and the A330s are more economical having two rather than four engines.

But there’s no escaping the fact that both Istanbul and Barcelona appear to be odd choices.

According to industry figures 96,000 passengers flew between Kuala Lumpur and Istanbul or vice versa in 2015. However there has been a significant decline in visitor numbers over the past few months. And only 17,000 passengers flew between the Malaysian capital and Barcelona.

On the other hand, in the case of Istanbul, Air Asia X will simply be taking over from Malaysia Airlines (which axed the route recently) so only Barcelona will be totally new to Malaysian aviation.

Air Asia X will hope to attract passengers who will be continuing beyond Kuala Lumpur and who would be using its flights to other points both in Asia and Australia.

It is unclear at the time of writing whether or not Air Asia X will secure fifth-freedom (traffic carried between two countries by an airline of a third) rights between Istanbul and Barcelona.

From Istanbul Air Asia X will compete directly with Turkish Airlines. There are no direct flights linking Barcelona with Kuala Lumpur but here the main competition (on service and price) will come from Emirates and Qatar Airways.

Note that no reservations are possible at the time of writing.