Singapore Airlines sold out of seats in a grounded plane at Changi Airport where passengers were served lunch © AFP via Getty Images

How much would you pay to have reheated food on a grounded plane? In Singapore, it turns out, up to $474 for lunch.

Asian airlines faced with desperate times have turned to creative problem solving. They may soon find a way to salvage some business while waiting for a return to normality.

Singapore Airlines sold out of seats in a grounded Airbus A380 at Changi Airport where passengers were served lunch. The offer, priced from $40 in coach to more than $400 for a first class suite, was immensely popular, prompting the airline to add a dinner service. Any use of empty planes on tarmac is good news. At the very least, it will keep the brand in people’s minds.

Still, those revenues will do little to offset plunging profits for the airline. Singapore posted a record $820m net loss in the three months to June, a lot of hot meals. Peers are suffering too. Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific recorded a $1.3bn first-half net loss.

Most Asian countries currently enforce strict two-week quarantine rules. The prospect of a month out of action (including quarantine on return) has made travellers shun cross-border travel.

But a planned air travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong could change things. Travellers — including tourists — would not have to quarantine upon arrival in the two cities if they test negative for the coronavirus before boarding.

Thailand is in talks with China to set up a similar agreement. Hong Kong is in advanced discussions about reopening its border to mainland China. As more countries are included in the bubble, air travel could revive much earlier than expected. That hope has achieved the seemingly impossible — a sharp increase in fares by as much as 40 per cent. Thursday’s announcement gave Cathay Pacific shares a 10 per cent lift.

This will not console shareholders in the two airlines — both of which trade at less than half book value after steep declines. But at least it signals an encouraging turn.

Our popular newsletter for premium subscribers Best of Lex is published twice weekly. Please sign up here

Get alerts on Airlines when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section