London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing – 27 September 2021

Welcome to London Air Travel’s weekly briefing on air travel around the world, as published every Monday at 06:00 BST.

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British Airways, London Gatwick
British Airways, London Gatwick

Welcome to London Air Travel’s Monday Briefing for the week beginning 27 September 2021.

The Hub Without The Hubbub

So that’s it.

After decades of short haul operations at Gatwick and periodic reinventions to compete against low cost airlines, BA has finally pulled the plug.

Or has it?

British Airways at London Gatwick Airport, 1979

There is a curious lack of detail on what BA and IAG have planned next for Gatwick. Last week the airline advised it will not pursue plans to set up a new subsidiary company to operate short haul flights after talks with the pilots union BALPA broke down. “Alternative uses” for the slots will be pursued.

Although short haul flights from Sunday 27 March 2022 at Gatwick are off sale, they are still loaded in online timetables. There’s also been no published guidance for the travel trade, nor any official updates to the stock exchange from IAG.

This was the first industrial relations test for Luis Gallego and Sean Doyle – both of whom have tried to emphasise a more emollient approach than their predecessors.

Anyone who has paid any attention to BA industrial relations over the years has come to expect a fair amount of sabre rattling and rough and tumble. The airline has also shown it can be very patient – even when this is tested to the limit – and will also sit out negative publicity to get what it wants. So it seems slightly odd the airline has appeared to have walked away from this so easily. BA and BALPA have certainly had much greater differences in the past.

It is inconceivable that any other IAG airline could have any more success at Gatwick than BA. This would leave slots having to be leased or sold to rival airlines. As history has shown once the capacity is lost, it is very hard to get it back.

Whilst many former Gatwick routes such as Jersey will work well at Heathrow. Accommodating many other leisure routes at Heathrow will not be so easy. As other routes return slots have to be optimised for long haul use and “out and back in a day” short haul business traffic. BA’s short haul network at Heathrow is also not insulated from competition at Gatwick.

IAG management will no doubt be quizzed further at investor updates in the coming weeks.

BA Route Network Updates

A few more BA route network updates for this week:

BA returns to The Maldives on Friday 1 October. It has also been confirmed that BA will return to Philadelphia and Austin from 12 & 13 October respectively. It is unlikely that any more transatlantic routes will return until the US border reopens to fully vaccinated tourists in November.

BA has also advised it will transfer its route to Providenciales from Gatwick to Heathrow for the winter season. It currently operates via Antigua from Gatwick and will do so via Nassau at Heathrow.

London Kings Cross Airport

Did you know there were once plans to build an airport at London Kings Cross?

This idea may seem utterly ludicrous today but in 1931 plans were developed for an airport in Central London by the architectural firm C. W. Glover and Partners. The rationale being that Croydon airport was not sufficiently well located to serve business travellers.

It was proposed that an airport with four runways, each half a mile long and 200 feet wide, would be built on 130 acres of land at Kings Cross. It was designed as a circle and divided by the four runways. The plans never got any further than the construction of a model version which you can see on Getty Images.

This, and many other unsuccessful ideas, including the ill-fated attempt to make Montreal Mirabel airport an international hub are featured in a book published this month “Unbuilt: Radical visions of a future that never arrived” by Christopher Beanland.

Also of note this week:

BA digitally retouches Charles Clyde Ebbets’ famous 1932 photograph “Lunch atop a skyscraper”, featuring 11 workmen sat on a steel girder more than 800 feet in the air during the construction of the Rockefeller Center in New York, to mark the planned reopening of the US.   (Ad Age)

The UK government has abandoned plans to give the Civil Aviation Authority enforcement powers to demand airlines offer refunds to customers who legally could not take flights they had booked. (The Times)

An extended feature on Australian airline pilots who have been grounded due to COVID-19 and international travel restrictions. “They give you with keys to an A380. They say ‘Go to London. See you in nine days. Don’t scratch the paint.'” “I loved landing the A380 into London in the early morning. You’re up there with all the other airliners coming in from everywhere. It was great.” (Sydney Morning Herald)

Late post publication updates:

[Reserved for updates throughout the day]

Qantas will reroute its flight from London Heathrow to Melbourne, which operated non stop between London and Perth, until at least April 2022. This is due to border restrictions in Western Australia. The airline is on track to restart international flights from late December 2021 and will resume flights to Sydney via Singapore. Qantas is exploring alternative options to fly from London to Melbourne via Darwin. Discussions are underway with Darwin airport and the Northern Territory government. If this is not possible, Qantas will fly from London to Melbourne via Singapore. A decision is expected in the next two weeks.

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