London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing – 5 April 2021

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United Airlines at London Heathrow
United Airlines at London Heathrow (Image Credit: Heathrow)

Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 5 April 2021.

30 Years After Pan Am and TWA At London Heathrow

This week marks 30 years since United Airlines first flew from London Heathrow, replacing Pan American World Airways.

1991 was a significant year for transatlantic travel from Heathrow. Under a treaty between the UK and US governments only BA, Pan American World Airways and Trans World Airlines could fly to the US from the airport.

All other airlines, notably Virgin Atlantic and a growing number of US airlines following the deregulation of US aviation in 1978, had to fly from Gatwick.

Both Pan Am and TWA were heavily indebted and reeling from the collapse of international travel following the Gulf War, rising oil prices and, in the case of Pan Am, the aftermath of the Lockerbie disaster.

Pan Am entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early 1991. It sought to raise around $290 million by selling its London route authorities to United. American Airlines purchased TWA’s London routes for $440 million.

London was for Pan Am in particular a major hub with it flying onwards not only to mainland Europe, but also as far afield as Bangkok, Beirut, Istanbul and Tokyo.

Pan American World Airways London Heathrow Schedule Summer 1974
Pan American World Airways London Heathrow Schedule Summer 1974

The sale of the routes required a renegotiation between the US and UK governments to allow American and United to fly from London Heathrow. This would otherwise render the sale of Pan Am and TWA’s route authorities worthless and cause the two airlines to collapse.

The UK government felt it had the upper hand given the pressing need for a deal. In theory, the UK was the winner as the US gave UK airlines the right to fly to the US from a limited number of countries in mainland Europe (subject to agreement from these countries), not that this is ever came to fruition until the EU-US Open Skies treaty in 2008. UK airlines also gained greater rights to to fly onwards from the US to Canada, Latin America and Asia.

An agreement to resume talks in a few months’ time to open up the US domestic market to UK airlines unsurprisingly came to nothing.

On 5 April 1991, United began flying from London Heathrow to Miami, New York JFK, San Francisco and Washington. In July 1991, American Airlines followed launching flights from London Heathrow to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark and New York JFK.

Virgin Atlantic also started flying from London Heathrow to New York JFK and Los Angeles from July. In classic fashion, Sir Richard Branson dressed up as a pirate, covered a model BA Concorde at Heathrow with a Virgin logo and declared the airport “Virgin Territory”.

BA bristled at Pan Am and TWA being replaced by financially stronger US airlines with larger domestic route networks and Virgin Atlantic gaining access to Heathrow. It prompted the airline to launch its own mileage based frequent flyer programme, having previously been a partner of American and United’s own frequent flyer programmes.

There had already been tensions between BA and Virgin Atlantic after it gained some of BA’s weekly flights to Tokyo. The relationship would sour even further with allegations of “Dirty Tricks” by BA against Virgin.

BA Gatwick Long Haul Changes

As you may have noticed we’ve largely paused publishing articles on route and schedule changes until there is certainty as to how international travel will return.

That said on Friday, BA confirmed that flights from Gatwick to Providenciales will move to Heathrow for the summer. BA timetables also indicate that some flights to Antigua and Saint Lucia will operate from Heathrow.

Although not officially confirmed by the airline, Las Vegas and Orlando now appear to operate on a summer seasonal basis at Gatwick. Conversely, Barbados now operates from Gatwick on a winter seasonal basis. Cape Town, New York JFK and Toronto Pearson are currently suspended form Gatwick.

Thanks to SeanM1997 and To Fly To Travel on Twitter for additional information and helping to join the dots.

Also of note this week:

British Airways’ Chief Pilot Captain Allister Bridger speaks to The Times, via Zoom. (The Times)

“Business class and bureaucracy hell: Surviving global travel during Covid” Flying Newark – Detroit – Seoul – Singapore – Sydney during COVID-19. (Politico)

Amsterdam rethinks mass tourism after the pandemic. (New York Times)

Late post publication updates:

[Reserved for updates throughout the day]

Former BA CEO & Chairman Alex Cruz is reported to be in the running to be the next CEO of Scandinavian Airlines. (Sky News)

American Airlines has launched a dedicated microsite with online prize draws to mark 40 years of its AAdvantage loyalty programme. (AAdvantage 40th)

Kenya Airways has suspended all passenger flights to the UK from 9 April following a local government directive. The airline has advised that additional flights will operate on 7 & 8 April.

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