This weekend sees the start of the new summer timetable at London Heathrow. There are a few changes including the launch of scheduled services by BA to New Orleans, Virgin Atlantic taking over Seattle from Delta, Flybe launching Aberdeen and Edinburgh and BA launching summer seasonal routes to Murcia, Nantes and Tallin with many more routes to follow later in the summer.
One other change is that BA is now flying a Boeing 777 daily between London Heathrow and Madrid, a route exclusively operated by BA and Iberia.
Shortly after the merger of BA and Iberia under the umbrella of International Airlines Group in 2011 the two airlines put wide body aircraft on the route. BA operates a Boeing 767 on flights BA456 and BA457. Iberia operates its Airbus A340 on flights BA522 and IB3166/BA7058. The principal reason for this is not necessarily passenger demand, but the cargo capacity in the belly of the aircraft.
From today, Sunday 26 March 2017, BA will also operate a Boeing 777 on this route. Flight BA458 which departs London Heathrow at 07:20 and flight BA459 which departs Madrid at 12:20 will be operated by a Boeing 777.
Update January 2018: It is now the early afternoon departure from London Heathrow BA460 and early evening return from Madrid BA461 that is operated by either a Boeing 777 or Boeing 787.
This is clearly beneficial for passengers, most notably those travelling in Club Europe as they will have a fully flat bed instead of the same leg room as economy on an Airbus A320!
Why don’t airlines do this more often?
Well, short-haul operations in Europe are generally based around quick turnaround times at airports which wide body aircraft are not conducive too. The relatively short distances also increases the number of take off and landings performed by the aircraft (known as “cycles”) thus increasing maintenance requirements.
We would certainly recommend choosing the Boeing 777 over the Airbus A320/Boeing 767 where possible.
What other short-haul routes at London Heathrow are operated with long-haul aircraft?
There aren’t many examples of wide body flights from London Heathrow. Finnair operates an Airbus A350 from London Heathrow to Helsinki on AY832 / AY831 (except Saturdays). Air France also operates the Boeing 787 on selected dates on flights AF1680 and AF1681 between London Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle for training purposes.
One route to watch is London Heathrow – Dublin. BA and Aer Lingus have yet to co-ordinate schedules on this route and they could well put widebody aircraft to increase capacity on this busy air corridor.