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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.

British Airways Gatwick Airport

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.

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.


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Comments (89)

  • 1ATL says:

    Aer Lingus used to run a fleet base out of Gatwick 10-12yrs ago. They had a small fleet of A320’s operating to The Canaries, mainland Spain and Portugal as well to Dublin and Belfast. I flew them to Lanzarote and it was a a perfectly acceptable experience.

  • Richard M says:

    What goes around comes around. I suppose they could call it GO lol

  • Nick_C says:

    How can the Aer Lingus brand make money where the BA brand cannot?

    And with the cuts in pay and conditions, are BA staff more expensive than EasyJet staff?

    • Jonathan says:

      Not just staff costs (although even with recent changes they’ll probably still have higher cost than EasyJet) but Avios redemptions & earning, lounges/free seat reservations/ enhanced luggage allowance for status passengers even on the cheap tickets.

      BA probably make no margin from a large proportion of the Sussex based Gold/Silvers downing a bottle of champagne in the lounge before their HBO flight to Malaga!

      • TokyoFan says:

        I’ve never flown to Malaga – but as a Hove BAEC Silver, I suspect their LGW operation made *very* little out of me with the bubbles and bacon baps in the lounge…

  • Peter18k says:

    Oh how times have changed; only 15 years ago one of the largest, if not the largest BA connecting market over LGW was from/to Manchester. To think how many LGW based carriers BA has taken over (e.g. BCAL, Dan-Air, Cityflyer Express) and slots purchased (ex Monarch & Thomas Cook) to build up its LGW portfolio. Much BA short haul connectivity has already disappeared and it looks like more is to go.

  • Kathy says:

    BA are taking bookings from Gatwick for summer 2021 to holiday destinations. I know that does not mean that they will fly.

    • Phil G says:

      BA are taking bookings to Australia for September even though Aus aren’t letting anyone in

      • Roger* says:

        Ditto for flights to South Africa, even though the country is closed to most passenger traffic and passengers need visas.

        BA would even transfer my cancelled CPT-LGW to -LHR on the same date. Normally preferred, but …

      • John says:

        Well they are, just not regular tourists, and capped at 50 people per flight. Are the prices astronomical?

  • ao40 says:

    Confused by the comment about no connecting flights. I used to connect to/from EDI frequently, and they had just opened the corridor so that domestic connections no longer had to be bussed, which had been a problem since the move to South. What am I misunderstanding?

    • David says:

      Indeed, I also disagree with this “Apart from Jersey, I don’t think there were any other United Kingdom flights which could connect.”

      Loads of connections onto the EDI flights, for example.
      Also plenty of connections non-domestic to non-domestic going on too.

    • Chrisasaurus says:

      that it was a commercial point – connecting into a CW long haul ticket would be lucrative, connecting to EDI wlumd not

      • ao40 says:

        Yeah, but that is exactly what some of the EDI flights connect to…

        Admittedly, I connected there much more for short haul, but also for flights to the carribean.

    • Alan says:

      Agree, can you explain what you were meaning with the ‘only Jersey’ comment, Rob? Unfortunately if BA keep flying long haul from LGW but not short haul then that’s a major issue for anyone not based in the SE trying to access those flights. Already a friend has had to cancel his holiday in Nov as the Edinburgh flights are cancelled even though long haul are still flying. Unsurprisingly he didn’t fancy having to hike between LHR and LGW at silly o’clock in the morning with a couple of toddler in tow.

  • Paul says:

    It’s really time that BA was forced to relinquish slots and let the competition in. This is particularly needed at LHR where there is nothing short of abuse on their monopoly on domestic flights.

    At LGW give the slots to others. BAs attitude to LGW has been an albatross around the neck of that much blighted airport for decades. Time to cut the cord and let others in.

    LHR too needs a shake up and I for one would like to see commercial agreements ended across the board to generate and promote genuine competition. Forcing BA to compete with AA and opening up lucrative routes like New York to others (SQ,QR,CX, anyone) can only help improve the passenger experience.

    Time for real change in aviation. Time to stop protecting BA

    • Derek Scott says:

      I disagree. With Brexit finally around the corner, we need to protect our national airline, the same way France, Germany, etc do with theirs at their main airports

      • ChrisC says:

        BA is not our national airline.

        It’s just an airline.

        • Paul74 says:

          Agreed.

        • Doug M says:

          Maybe not our national airline, but it has an awful lot of British people employed there. In a globalised world competition is all well and good so long as it’s real. Germany, France and Netherlands have made competing with LH, AF and KL somewhat tricky.
          Breaking up transport and utilities in the UK to promote competition has largely just resulted in foreign ownership of key functions in the UK. The USA will not allow the likes of CX, QR and SQ to operate LHR-JFK services regardless of UK intention.
          So often when people talk of competition their only real motive is more for them less for others.

          • Chris Heyes says:

            Doug M @ OK make BA our National Airline get the government to Nationalize it lol

    • Kevin says:

      Really? There is opportunity for competition at LHR on domestic flights. How did Little Red get on? And then there was Flybe.
      You talk about competition at LGW. Who is the biggest operator there? I think you will find the issue for BA at LHR, as mentioned in the article, is that there is already a lot of competition at LGW which leads to lower prices.

    • Mikeact says:

      There are already many ways to cross the pond.

  • clt086 says:

    Why not use the BA brand but rebadge it to a low cost subsidiary like Iberia Express?

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