2019 was a busy year for BA with its centenary celebrations, the launch of its first new long-haul business class cabin in nearly 20 years, and the delivery of its first Airbus A350-1000 aircraft.
The delivery of new long-haul aircraft and retrofitting the new Club Suite to its existing Heathrow fleet will be a continuing theme throughout 2020, as well as potentially significant changes to its relationships with alliance and codeshare partners.
Here are some of the major known changes to aircraft, routes and partnerships for 2020:
Long-Haul Fleet – New Aircraft Deliveries
In 2020, BA will take delivery of new Airbus A350-1000, Boeing 777-300 and Boeing 787-10 aircraft.
As at December 2019, BA has taken delivery of 4 of its order of 18 Airbus A350-1000 aircraft. These will continue throughout 2020 and all aircraft are expected to be delivered by 2022.
BA will also take delivery of four new Boeing 777-300 aircraft and the first 6 of its order for 12 Boeing 787-10 aircraft.
The Boeing 787-10 aircraft will feature an 8 seat First Class cabin, 48 Club Suites, and 35 seats in World Traveller Plus and 165 seats in World Traveller. The first aircraft is due to arrive in January and the first confirmed route is Atlanta.
Long-Haul Fleet – Aircraft Refurbishments
BA has now completed the refurbishment of its Gatwick based Boeing 777-200 aircraft.
This has primarily involved “densifying” its World Traveller economy from 9 to 10 seats abreast as well as fitting new in-flight entertainment systems and new World Traveller Plus seats.
BA is now refurbishing its fleet of Boeing 777-200 aircraft at London Heathrow. As well as “densifying” its economy cabin, the airline is also retrofitting its new Club Suite to the aircraft and reducing the size of the First Class cabin to 8 seats. It also expected that some four class aircraft will also be converted to three class. Some of BA’s 12 Boeing 777-300 aircraft will also be refurbished in a similar fashion this year.
Long-Haul Fleet – Aircraft Retirements
BA will continue to retire aircraft from its Boeing 747 fleet, with the number of aircraft in service at Heathrow expected to reduce from 32 to 25 by the end of 2020.
The airline also plans to retire 3 Boeing 777-200 aircraft at London Heathrow. These are known as the “odd-ball” aircraft with registrations G-ZZZA, G-ZZZB, and G-ZZZC and 17 First Class seats which typically operate to the Middle East and US East Coast.
BA is expected to continue to take delivery of new Airbus A320neo and Airbus A321neo aircraft to replace its oldest Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft.
In June 2019, BA’s parent company IAG announced it had signed a Letter Of Intent with Boeing to acquire up to 200 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft for delivery to BA at London Gatwick and Vueling from 2023.
This was in part intended to introduce competition between Airbus and Boeing for short-haul aircraft and mitigate the risk of delivery delays from Airbus. Given Boeing’s decision to suspend production of the Boeing 737 MAX and its well documented problems bringing the aircraft back to service, IAG will have to make a decision shortly whether to order alternative aircraft from Airbus.
2020 is a relatively quiet year for new routes.
BA is to introduce just one new long-haul route, from London Heathrow Terminal 5 to Portland, Oregon from 1 June 2020.
Given the number of long-haul aircraft deliveries, refurbishments and retirements at Heathrow it is likely that there will be a significant reallocation of aircraft between routes during the course of the year.
BA will launch new summer seasonal short-haul routes from London Heathrow to Bodrum, Dalaman, Perugia, Podgrica, Pristina and Rhodes. BA’s summer seasonal service from London Heathrow to Nantes will not return in 2020.
At Gatwick, BA will launch a new summer seasonal route to Antalya. However, summer seasonal services to Gibraltar and Limoges will not return. It is noteworthy that, despite the acquisition of slots from Monarch, BA has not added new long-haul routes at Gatwick for some time.
To London City, BA will launch a new summer seasonal service to San Sebastian. However, summer seasonal service to Granada will not return in 2020.
In-Flight Products & Service
It’s highly unlikely there will be any radical changes to BA’s approach of targeted investment, focused on premium cabins.
Given the retirement of Boeing 747 aircraft and the planned conversion of some four class Boeing 777-200 aircraft to three class, it is inevitable that First Class will continue to be removed from some routes.
Taking into account planned aircraft deliveries and refurbishments above, it is estimated that the new Club Suite will be fitted to a third of long-haul aircraft at Heathrow by the end of 2020.
As far as ground services are concerned, automation and efficiency is likely to be a continuing theme. BA will even trial robots to guide passengers at London Heathrow Terminal 5.
A new BA uniform, designed by Ozwald Boateng OBE will also be introduced in 2020.
2019 was a good year for lounge refurbishments.
BA has not yet confirmed which lounges will be refurbished in 2020. However, it has previously said that lounges in Chicago O’Hare and Manchester are earmarked for refurbishment.
At some point, if not this year, BA’s lounges at Heathrow will be refurbished and we may at least have a timetable for what will be a substantial project this year.
Edit: BA has since advised that lounges in Berlin, Edinburgh and Heathrow will be “refreshed” during the year. The Elemis Spa at New York JFK Terminal 7 will also be redesigned.
BA will launch a new joint business with China Southern Airlines from Thursday 2 January 2020.
Initially, this will only extend to BA placing its code on China Southern Airlines flights from London Heathrow to Guangzhou, Sanya, Zhengzhou, and Wuhan.
The transatlantic joint business with American Airlines, Finnair and Iberia will mark its 10th anniversary in 2020.
To secure regulatory approval, certain commitments to make remedy slots available at Heathrow were agreed with the European Commission. In light of the expiry of these commitments and the UK’s planned departure from the European Union, in late 2018, the UK Competitions & Markets Authority announced a review of the joint business. This has taken longer than expected. The CMA is expected to confirm whether it will issue a “statement of objections” in 2020. Whilst the outcome of this is not yet known, it is implausible that there will not have been intense lobbying by many rival airlines to secure additional slots at Heathrow.
Royal Air Maroc will join the Oneworld alliance in 2020.
There is certainly scope for co-operation between BA and Royal Air Maroc, if it wasn’t for the fact that BA doesn’t currently fly to Casablanca.
LATAM Airlines will leave the Oneworld alliance in 2020 following Delta’s acquisition of a 20% stake in the airline.
BA currently codeshares with LATAM on London Heathrow – Sao Paulo and on a number of routes within Latin America. These may well cease in 2020.
BA’s parent company IAG has agreed to acquire Air Europa.
The transaction is expected to complete in the second half of 2020. It is enviable that remedies will be demanded by regulators and there can be no certainty that these will be palatable to IAG. If the transaction completes, Air Europa will initially retain its own name and there will be scope for co-operation through codesharing etc.
Finally, there could be significant management announcements in 2020.
IAG’s Chief Executive Willie Walsh has announced his intention to retire before October 2021.
Given IAG will mark its 10th anniversary in early 2021, this would seem an appropriate time to bow out. It is highly likely that Willie’s replacement will be an internal appointment and BA CEO Alex Cruz will be inevitably be a candidate. In any event, IAG do like to move executives around the group and the appointment of a new CEO may well prompt other management changes.