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Is British Airways permanently ending short-haul flights from Gatwick?

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On Friday evening, British Airways told the majority of its staff whether or not they still had jobs.  The anecdotal evidence is that London Gatwick was hit substantially harder than London Heathrow which has led to increased suspicion that the short-haul network will be permanently shuttered.

It’s not just that Gatwick-based cabin crew appear to have been disproportionately made redundant.  More important is that the British Airways hangar at Gatwick appears to be closing, with staff laid off.  This will mean that anything other than basic maintenance will require an aircraft to be at Heathrow.

The implication of this is that British Airways no longer intends to operate its 30+ short-haul aircraft from Gatwick and that the London Gatwick short-haul operation is now gone for good.  It appears that the long-haul operation, consisting of 14 aircraft, will remain.

It is worth noting that The Telegraph ran a piece yesterday, behind a paywall unfortunately, stating that the South terminal at London Gatwick will not reopen in the near future, and certainly not in 2020.  This also implies that there will not be a British Airways short-haul operation for some time.

This is, of course, still entirely speculative, but British Airways no longer has the cabin crew or engineering facilities at Gatwick to support much of an operation.

British Airways Gatwick Airport

Why would BA close down short-haul at London Gatwick?

There are a lot of reasons why closing short-haul makes sense.

Gatwick has very little connecting traffic.  British Airways will not be losing any £5,000+ business class fares by closing short-haul, as virtually no-one was connecting to long-haul.  Apart from Jersey, I don’t think there were any other United Kingdom flights which could connect.

Gatwick is very low yield.  No explanation needed – we all know that Gatwick flights are substantially cheaper than Heathrow flights due to competition from easyJet etc.  Some costs, such as crew salaries and landing fees, are lower too but not enough to compensate.

British Airways may have to use its Heathrow slots this Winter.  Even if the ‘use it or lose it’ rules are not reintroduced in October, it is highly likely they will be in March.  BA needs to get every single flight it possibly can into Heathrow.  The only reason to keep the Gatwick long-haul operation going is, I imagine, to manage passenger numbers in Terminal 5.

It saves a lot of overhead.  Running a terminal at Gatwick is expensive when you are already paying the fixed costs of keeping Terminal 5 open.  The Gatwick long-haul flights can, it appears, be operated from Gatwick North with premium passengers using the Aspire lounge.

Gatwick second runway

Is IAG going to launch a new low cost carrier?

British Airways has, of course, a substantial portfolio of slots at London Gatwick.  It is only a year or so ago that it bulked up via the acquisition of the Monarch slots.  Is it going to let them go?

easyJet, Wizz and Ryanair would be desperately keen to get their hands on these slots.  Whilst British Airways seems to have decided that ‘point to point’ flying, without any connecting traffic, is no longer profitable, this has never worried the low cost carriers.

There is another option.

IAG could use this opportunity to launch its own low cost carrier from Gatwick.  Branding is an issue, of course.  LEVEL has been mostly shut down in recent months, apart from the Barcelona operation.  Vueling is an option but the brand has a tarnished reputation.  The Air Europa name will be available if IAG’s acquisition completes but the name doesn’t mean anything to travellers in the UK.

IAG could launch a new brand, but the middle of a pandemic is never a good time to do that.  This leads to me think ….. how about Aer Lingus?  The airline has a good reputation in the UK and is already a low cost operator in all but name on short-haul.  I don’t think that UK customers would necessarily find it weird to book Aer Lingus to fly them from London to Palma.

Let’s see.  Much will rest on how long the EU allows airlines to keep hold of their slots without operating any aircraft.  There is an outside chance that the ‘use it or lose it’ rule will restart from the Winter season, launching in late October.  Realistically it is more likely to be Summer 2021, which runs from the last week of March.

Would IAG be able to launch a new low cost carrier from scratch, ready to fly from March 2021?  Does it even want to?  Let’s see.

Comments (89)

  • Baji Nahid says:

    Well thats a monopoly for Easyjet then to get its grip on the gatwick domestic flights.

    • Lady London says:

      You mean they hadn’t already?

    • Neil says:

      Doubt it, wizz air will be snapping at their heels for the slots.

      • Lady London says:

        Good. Gatwick Airport was never that pleasant due to being swamped by holiday business. But improved a lot in recent years. I’d like the 30,000 people? employed at Gatwick to get every chance of their jobs back.

  • Bob Morris says:

    Not sure better ask Alex Cruz chair of BA.Who? The guy that gets the big pay and does sweet fanny adams!
    Rather than Rob BA first aiders of their ,£1 inducement get rid of Cruz. It’s Willie Walsh that’s running the show.

  • T Parker says:

    Just had my long haul flight to Barbados moved from LGW to LHR flying 30 Oct, return to LGW at the moment but assume that will change?

  • I wouldn’t discount branding a new BA-owned low-cost airline at Gatwick Air Europa. Not only is Air Europa the least tarnished of BA parent IAG’s low-cost brands (provided IAG’s planned acquisition of Air Europa survives the fall-out from Covid-19), but that airline had its origins in the mid-80s, when former private, Gatwick-based UK airline Air Europe established Air Europa as its Spanish sister airline’s under the Airlines of Europe umbrella (somewhat similar in structure to today’s IAG although national ownership restrictions in the aviation sector at the time meant that Airlines of Europe – a.k.a. the former UK airline Air Europe – could only own a maximum of 25% to 33% of its European partner airlines’ total share capital, depending on each country’s maximum limit on foreign share ownership). Air Europe was established in late-1978 and commenced operations the following May with a fleet of three brand-new Boeing 737 200 Advanced series aircraft. The airline was the brain child of former UK private airline Dan-Air’s senior executives Errol Cossey and Martin O’Regan, who had become disenchanted with Dan-Air’s senior management’s – chiefly Fred Newman, who had co-founded Dan-Air with his business partner E.M. Davies in 1953 – stubborn refusal to consider the acquisition of brand-new jet aircraft. (Until the early-80s, Dan-Air had only ever bought its jet aircraft – de Havilland Comets, BAC One-Elevens as well as Boeing 707s and 727s – second-hand. Martin O’Regan, who was Dan-Air’s finance director had tried in vain to convince Dan-Air co-founder and chairman Fred Newman that a fleet of brand-new Boeing 737-200 Advanced would result in a substantially better operating performance and significantly lower costs than the existing jumble of older second-hand jets – especially the fuel-guzzling Comets that accounted for well over half of the total jet fleet at the time and were already in the twilight of their operational career – and that this would enable Dan-Air to grow its business substantially by bidding for additional charter contracts that were out of its reach with the Comets. Another concern for these two senior Dan-Air executives was the poor reputation the UK charter airline industry in general – and Dan-Air in particular – had for the onboard service they provided through “innovations” like seat-back catering – pioneered by Luton-based Court Line and adopted by much of the rest of the industry – etc.) Air Europe grew rapidly through the 1980s and also diversified into scheduled services during the second half of that decade. By the late-80s, Air Europe became Gatwick’s biggest resident airline, accounting for one-fifth of all takeoff and landing slots at the airport. Unfortunately, the airline did not survive the early-90s recession in the wake of the first Gulf War, primarily due to financial instability at its tour operator parent ILG (=International Leisure Group, originally Intasun Leisure). By the time the airline ceased operations on 8 March 1991, it operated a then state-of-the-art fleet of Boeing 737 series 300 / 400, Boeing 757 series 200 and Fokker F100 (the latter type mainly on scheduled services), and it also had a regional affiliate – Air Europe Express (operating a fleet of SD-360 turboprops) – which was a forerunner of today’s London City based BA Cityflyer. Ironically, it was Gatwick stalwart and former Air Europe competitor Dan-Air that gained most of the latter’s Gatwick scheduled routes, a substantial portion of its charter business and several Boeing 737 series 300 / 400 aircraft in the wake of Air Europe’s cessation of operations until Dan-Air’s Gatwick scheduled services were taken over by British Airways in early November 1992. So, technically BA should still own the Dan-Air name as well, which could provide it with another branding alternative for a new Gatwick-based low-cost airline, an option that would enable it to clearly distinguish a Dan-Air branded low-cost product from a BA-branded full-service alternative based out of Heathrow.

    Another possibility would be for BA to buy whatvrenains of Norwegian UK’s Gatwick operation and merge this with whatever will be left from BA’s own pre Covid-19 Gatwick operation as the nucleus of a new, genuinely low-cost Gatwick operation. Such a move would also allow BA / IAG to use Norwegian’s still nearly new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners to replace BA’s long-in-the-tooth Boeing 777-200s, at Gatwick and Heathrow as well. However, it is unlikely that such a combination would retain the Norwegian brand (at least in my opinion)

  • Hardpack says:

    I would have loved to have had the NCL-LGW connection back that disappeared years ago from ba. Easy and jet2 couldn’t then make it work, so as far as I’m concerned, having everything at LHR suits me just fine. Looking forward to Tirana and already enjoying Jersey flights from Heathrow

  • There is no doubt that Business travel will take a long time to recover whereas short haul point to point is already recovering fast. Ryanair and Easyjet are the airlines that have added the most capacity in the last 6 weeks. BA would be very foolish to give up slots at LGW especially as the third runway at LHR will never be built