If there’s one long-haul route from London that is more coveted than any other, it has to be the London Heathrow to New York route.
In 2013, some 4.2 million passengers flew in both directions between London and New York. This is more than Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami combined.
For almost any new entrant into the London long-haul market it is the first route to be targetted.
The first flight operated by Virgin Atlantic was flight VS1 from London Gatwick to Newark airport.
Readers may also recall a number of all business class airlines (eos, Silverjet and Maxjet) sought to break into the London – New York market a little over seven years ago. All were ultimately unsuccessful.
Until early 2008, traffic originating from London Heathrow was largely the domain of American Airlines, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
United Airlines, the only other airline permitted to operate the route at the time had withdrawn its solitary daily fight – a reminder of the importance of schedules on even the most lucrative routes.
The opening of the Europe – US transatlantic market under “Open Skies” saw Delta Airlines and what was formerly Continental Airlines move their London – New York flights from London Gatwick to Heathrow. In Continental Airlines’ case, it paid some $209 million for four slot pairs at the airport.
However, Oneworld partners American Airlines and British Airways have still largely dominated the route thanks to their combined schedule of fourteen daily flights.
This is compared to five a day for United Airlines, three for Delta and six a day for Virgin Atlantic. BA’s operation at New York JFK Terminal 7 (even if showing its age in some places) has also proved popular with frequent flyers.
From tomorrow, Sunday 30 March, the dynamic should change slightly as Delta and Virgin Atlantic combine their joint schedule of nine daily flights – a vital step for Delta and Virgin Atlantic to win corporate clients from American and British Airways.
Delta will also move its London Heathrow – New York flights from Heathrow Terminal 4 to 3 from Wednesday 2 April. This means that all Delta and Virgin Atlantic flights to and from JFK operate from the same terminal. This is a claim that neither American nor BA can make as they operate from separate terminals at both London Heathrow and New York JFK.
American Airlines and BA have clearly recognised the threat of a combined Delta and Virgin Atlantic.
Schedules have been tweaked so that American Airlines operates its new Boeing 777-300 on all of its London – New York flights. These aircraft offer fully flat beds in business class with all seats affording aisle access and upgraded in flight entertainment and onboard WiFi in all cabins.
It should be interesting to watch how matters evolve over the coming months. Out of all the transatlantic routes operated by Delta and Virgin Atlantic, this is one where they can really make an impact. On other routes Delta and Virgin will still struggle against the frequency advantage of a combined American Airlines and BA. Delta and Virgin’s single daily flight to Chicago versus up to six daily American and BA flights is a case in point.
For passengers of American and BA, some competition will be welcome. In particular, it will be interesting to see how both the “hard” product of ground facilities and cabin interiors and the “soft” aspects in terms of in-flight catering on all airlines evolve. With fully flat beds now a standard feature in almost all business class cabins and both BA and Virgin having last made any significant upgrade to their respective ground facilities at London Heathrow over six years ago, it will be interesting to see if this prompts any “game changing” innovations.