It hardly needs saying that 2017 was not BA’s best year.
After a relatively stable period of growth, issues that had dogged the airline in the past, namely industrial relations tensions and disruption at London Heathrow, returned to the fore. There was also the troubled introduction of Buy On Board catering which triggered a wave of negative publicity and scrutiny of cuts to the minutae of the in-flight service.
That said, it was far from all bad news. It launched new routes from London Heathrow to New Orleans and Santiago. At London Gatwick, BA launched Oakland Fort Lauderdale. BA also opened its First Wing at London Heathrow, providing long overdue direct access to the lounges for First Class and Executive Club Gold Cardholders. New lounges also opened at BA’s new home in the South Terminal and at Boston. In the air, it launched new catering in Club World, initially only the New York JFK route, and added Club Europe to UK domestic flights.
In 2019, BA will celebrate its centenary. The airline will no doubt be wanting to put its best foot forward, so here’s a quick run through of what to expect from BA this year. This includes confirmed announcements and wild speculation and guesswork.
A Year Of Change At Gatwick
The big story for BA this year is likely to be at Gatwick.
15 years ago, BA began a steady contraction at Gatwick. The 2002 “Future Size and Shape” initiative saw a number of routes and aircraft moved to Heathrow and the “dehubbing” of Gatwick. The subsequent loss of its franchise partner GB Airways to easyJet and the Open Skies treaty that allowed BA to move some US routes to Heathrow also had an impact. Whilst long-haul has performed relatively well, short-haul activity was been relatively modest with very few launches in recent years (such as Limoges, Nuremburg, Valencia and Vienna).
This year, BA is expected to add up to 20 new daily flights as it acquires the majority of Monarch’s former slots.
BA has yet to officially announce its plans. However, we can make some educated guesses. Only some slots will be suitable for long-haul operations. It also goes without saying that its much easier to fill slots with short-haul routes. and BA does need to use the slots, or it will risk forfeiting them.
Update 4 January 2018: BA has confirmed it will add new summer seasonal routes from Gatwick to Palma, Mahon and Gibraltar next summer. These will operate from late May to late September 2018.
It will also increase frequencies to Malaga, Alicante, Faro, Tenerife, Madeira, and Lanzarote.
BA is likely to use Airbus A319s and A320s and up to three Boeing 777s that were due to be retired from London Heathrow to fill up capacity. BA has also sought regulatory approval from the Civil Aviation Authority to lease aircraft from Qatar Airways which may be used at Gatwick.
The one thing that won’t happen is the return of a dual hub operation and “The hub without the hubbub”. BA also won’t be going head-to-head with easyJet on major business routes. BA is unlikely have sufficient “first wave” early morning departure slots to offer competitive schedules and frequencies to business travellers.
BA will also progressively introduce its “High Density” Boeing 777 on many three class long-haul routes. There can be no doubt that customer feedback and the financial performance of routes will be monitored very closely. If the refurbishment is considered a success then expect the rest of the Boeing 777 fleet to follow.
Update: Please see here for images of the refurbished Boeing 777 aircraft which was unveiled on Monday 5 March 2018.
New Long-Haul Routes
Confirmed new long-haul routes for 2018 include:
London Heathrow to Nashville, Tennessee, five times weekly from Friday 4 May 2018.
London Heathrow to The Seychelles, twice weekly from Saturday 24 March 2018 until Saturday 27 October 2018.
London Gatwick to Las Vegas three times a week from Tuesday 27 March 2018 until Friday 26 October 2018.
London Gatwick to Toronto three times a week from Tuesday 1 May 2018 until Friday 26 October 2018.
BA will also operate the Airbus A380 to Chicago O’Hare from Tuesday 8 May 2018.
In terms of possible new route announcements, BA will probably continue the trend of announcing one new North America route from London Heathrow a year.
New Short-Haul Routes
Confirmed new short-haul routes for 2018 include:
London Heathrow to Almeria twice weekly from Tuesday 27 March 2018 to Saturday 27 October 2018.
London Heathrow to Corsica once a week from Sunday 25 March 2018 to Sunday 21 October 2018.
London Heathrow to Kefalonia twice weekly from Tuesday 15 May to Saturday 6 October 2018.
Las Palmas and Tenerife also become year round Saturday services from London Heathrow.
BA will continue to roll out the new in flight meal service to its long-haul network.
The one thing you won’t see on board an aircraft this year is a new Club World seat. This will not enter service until BA introduces the Airbus A350 in 2019. BA has promised that the new seat will be “top tier” and provide aisle access for all. However, we might at least see renders of the new seat before the end of the year.
In January, BA will introduce new catering in World Traveller economy, which has long been subject to never ending tweaks, with the promise of more snacks and a better second meal service. BA is also to review Club Europe business class catering (again).
Update: BA has confirmed it will introduce new World Traveller catering from 17 January 2018. More details here.
The one thing BA won’t be doing is removing Buy On Board catering in EuroTraveller. BA CEO Alex Cruz has promised to look at whether it might introduce some form of free offer for high value customers, something it should have arguably done from the start.
BA will continue to roll-out in-flight WiFI. The installation is moving at a very steady pace, with WiFi only available on a small number of long-haul aircraft. BA claims 90% of aircraft will be fitted by 2019.
BA’s fleet plan (published before it acquired Monarch’s Gatwick slots) was to increase its long-haul fleet by 3 aircraft this year. 2 Boeing 747s are due to be retired and 5 Boeing 787s are due to be delivered.
BA will also refurbish more of its Boeing 747s. These are aircraft that have 52 Club World seats with World Traveller Plus positioned between First Class and Club World. They operate on routes such as Accra, Cape Town, Nairobi, Phoenix and Vancouver.
BA has also agreed to lease three second hand Boeing 777-300 aircraft to replace three Boeing 777-200s at Heathrow. Though the exact delivery dates are not known.
There is also the question of whether BA will ever add more Airbus A380s. Its clearly performing well on major gateways. However, its parent company insists that the purchase price of new aircraft is too high. It has long expressed an interest in leasing second hand aircraft, but nothing has come to fruition yet.
BA will take delivery of 10 Airbus A320 NEO and 3 Airbus A321 NEO aircraft. BA is also due to “densify” (again) its London Heathrow Airbus A320 and A321 fleet, increasing the number of seats from 168 to a maximum of 186 on the A320 and from 205 to 218 on the A321. This will result in some changes to in-flight service, such as the removal of Duty Free sales.
The Boeing 767, which still (just about!) plies a number of short-haul routes, will finally be given its long overdue retirement this year. Whilst it won’t receive a fanfare to that of Concorde, expect something to mark its departure.
Airports & Lounges
This year, BA is expected to complete its refurbishment of New York JFK Terminal 7. The airline will also refurbish lounges in Aberdeen and Rome and these are expected to complete in the spring.
BA will celebrate ten years of operations at London Heathrow Terminal 5 in March. The opening day itself is something BA would probably rather forget. At Terminal 5, expect more automation with more self-service baggage drops and automated gates in departures and flight connections.
Alliances & Partnerships
BA and Iberia are in the process of securing anti-trust immunity for a joint-venture with LATAM Airlines on flights between Europe and Latin America. If approved, and implemented this year, expect more extensive codesharing on each other’s networks and co-ordination of schedules.
Aer Lingus is also engaged in a similar process to join the transatlantic joint-venture with American Airlines, BA, Finnair and Iberia. Whilst this shouldn’t make much of a difference as Aer Lingus and BA already codeshare with each other, it does mean American Airlines and Aer Lingus will be able to codeshare and co-ordinate schedules at Dublin.
Wild Speculation and Guesswork
Last year, parted company with its advertising agency of twelve years, Bartle Bogle Hegarty after WPP secured the account. It has been seven years since the last major brand relaunch and five years since the last major “Masterbrand” TV ad campaign. In light of the fact BA will celebrate its centenary in 2019, a brand relaunch is possible.
Will BA follow Aer Lingus and launch unbundledtransatlantic fare? A number of other airlines have followed suit, but is there the stomach for the inevitable negative publicity?
Update March 2018:. Yes, it will.
There is also the question of London City – New York JFK. It has reduced to one daily flight. And with Heathrow soon to be served by Crossrail it is questionable how sustainable this route is.
The latest on BA this year:
Here are our latest stories on BA:
- BA Club World Catering: New York JFK – London Heathrow
- BA’s new Club World catering & bedding reviewed
- 10 Years of London Heathrow Terminal 5
- BA unveils its “densified” London Gatwick Boeing 777
- BA to launch unbundled long-haul economy fares
- BA Doha Cancellations March – July 2018
- BA offering 2 Club World tickets for £2,018 to Beijing and Shanghai
- Changes affecting children flying alone on BA
- BA Airbus A380 flights from London Heathrow in 2018
- BA adds new Club World catering to more routes