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After a look back at 2018, it’s time to turn attention to the year ahead.
Two certain events are likely to dominate in 2019.
The first is BA’s centenary celebrations.
The airline will officially celebrate its centenary on Sunday 25 August 2019. This will mark 100 years since the first scheduled international passenger service between London and Paris.
It can be said with confidence there will be a lot of PR activity in advance of this. The airline has already said there will be “100 acts of kindness” throughout the year as part of its “BA Magic” series. You can also expect a lot of in-flight service improvements in the first half of the year.
The second is that both BA and Virgin Atlantic will take delivery of their first Airbus A350-1000 aircraft.
Both airlines will be introducing entirely new Club World and Upper Class cabins respectively.
This is the first time both airlines will undertake a full redesign of their cabins since they each introduced fully flat beds. BA will be abandoning its patented “yin-yang” layout. Virgin is also expected to replace its current herringbone design.
It’s hard to envisage both airlines not going for something other than a forward facing 1-2-1 design. Though both will want to differentiate themselves in the market. Whoever comes up with the leading design, will Virgin let BA have the last word? Probably, not.
As events this year have shown, there is no shortage of willing entrants on the UK transatlantic market. JetBlue, subject to obtaining slots, may announce new transatlantic routes from Boston and New York to London.
Like JetBlue, WestJet is respected local brand. However, it’s entry into the transatlantic market a couple of years ago got off to a very difficult start, primarily due to the reliability of its Boeing 767s. Its competitiveness should improve significantly next year when it introduces the Boeing 787 with its first international business class cabin at Gatwick.
Qantas is also expected confirm next year whether it will launch non-stop flights from London to Sydney.
It is currently in discussions with Airbus and Boeing about placing an order for suitable aircraft. The launch of non-stop flights to Perth this year generated huge amounts of PR for the airline and has, at least as far as Qantas is prepared to say, has been a commercial success.
In terms of loyalty programmes, easyJet will be making another move onto BA territory by launching its first ever frequent flyer currency. Virgin will also relaunching its frequent flyer programme as it, subject to regulatory approval, launches a new combined transatlantic joint-venture with Air France-KLM.
The two big unknowns are Flybe and Norwegian.
Virgin Atlantic confirmed shortly before Christmas that it is still in discussions with Flybe. This does suggest that it is serious in its intent.
In theory, next year Norwegian is supposed delivery of yet more Boeing 737 MAX8 and Boeing 787 aircraft, and its first Airbus A321 Neo Long Range aircraft. However, it’s clear from an update shortly before Christmas that preserving cash is currently a priority. Norwegian will be selling aircraft – both existing and those yet to be delivered. Whatever happens next, the era of rapacious growth is simply over.
Things have gone very quiet regarding IAG and Norwegian. That is not to say there isn’t activity behind the scenes – it’s when there’s an impasse that there are leaks. IAG is not an organisation to shy away from hard work and would relish the “transformational” aspects of any acquisition, specifically in the Nordic region and at Gatwick. However, given the number of overlapping city pairs between IAG airlines and Norwegian, it’s hard not to see slot significant divestures being demanded by competition regulators.