BA restores cancelled North Atlantic flights
By Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent
BRITISH AIRWAYS is restoring most of the services cancelled on its lucrative North Atlantic routes from the start of next month. This is the strongest sign yet that the national carrier is recovering more swiftly than had been expected from a disastrous year.
BA says it is attracting premium passengers away from other airlines, with a 4 to 5 per cent improvement in its share of the market for tickets sold in the US for travel to the UK.
The airline cut a fifth of its capacity after September 11 but, with the launch of the summer schedule on April 1, will be restoring all but two of the services it removed on US routes. The airline relies on the North Atlantic for almost all its profits.
The prime Heathrow-New York route will return to six subsonic flights a day from the five at present. Concorde will also move from a six to a seven-day service next month, with the Saturday morning flight resuming. Boston and Washington will move from two to three flights a day.
BA will fly only 747s from Heathrow to New York as opposed to the smaller 777s used for some of the current services. Two Gatwick-US flights, to New York and Charlotte, will not be restored.
BA’s share of US sales for the London-New York market is now nudging 40 per cent, said David Noyes, the airline's vice-president for North American sales. “Our market share across the corporate sector has increased by 4 to 5 per cent,” he said. “We are not back to levels of profitability a year ago but we are improving significantly and we are ahead of the schedule we had set ourselves. This downturn is going to be a lot shorter than after the Gulf War.”
He attributed the recovery to BA’s introduction of flat beds in business class. All its US routes apart from Detroit and Baltimore now have these.
Unlike some other airlines, which slashed fares to win back passengers, BA has opted for promotions offering free nights at hotels. A promotion that began last week with Yahoo! has already netted 30,000 sales.
Mr Noyes admitted that BA would suffer this summer from cruise ships’ altered schedules. After September 11 most of the leading cruise operators, which BA feeds with premium passengers, relocated their ships for the summer season.
“They pulled out of the Mediterranean and are going to the Caribbean or Alaska instead and that will impact on BA,” he said.
BA will not decide until the summer whether to restore the twice-daily Concorde service to New York. It has made safety modifications to four of its seven supersonic planes and work has started on a fifth. The airline needs six to operate a double daily service.
However, BA is selling less than 60 per cent of its seats on the once-a-day service, with most flights from New York to London less than half full.
BA’s announcement coincides with a new survey showing that business travellers expect transatlantic confidence to rebound strongly later in 2002. The American Express Corporate Travel Barometer found that fewer than a fifth of companies have restricted travel to essential trips while only 8 per cent have substituted video conferencing.
Expect the concorde loads to go up when they get the 5th ship into service resulting in the 1725 arrival into LHR again