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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)

  • Andrew says:

    My parents would connect from Glasgow at Gatwick to BA long haul. They always said the morning flight up and down was largely comprised of others connecting too.

  • Alastair says:

    I agree with Andrew. We fly on long haul connecting flights via Gatwick from Edinburgh at least once a year & my impression is that’s what most other passengers are doing too.

  • AJA says:

    This is just a reflection of the state of the airline industry and BA in particular. LGW South terminal was not exclusively BA so for the airport to shut it for so long suggests that the demand for flights must be significant down. I would have thought it would have made more sense to shut the north terminal and shift everything to the South terminal especially given the proximity to the railway station.

    Personally I prefer to fly from LHR so would not be too impacted by BA ending all short haul flights from LGW but the caveat is that fares are generally lower from LGW so can see that it will cost more from LHR. But if that is how the airline survives so be it.

    • Steve says:

      I wondered this, why run everything from the North Terminal requiring the shuttle connection when the South has the railway station and Hilton hotel? Does North have more gates or something?

      • ChrisC says:

        North has EasyJet which is a far bigger operation at LGW than any other airline.

        And it’s likely cheaper to keep the shuttle going than it is to move flights back to South.

        • AJA says:

          It used to be the other way around Easyjet flew from South and BA from North. They switched a couple of years ago Also given Easyjet doesn’t have lounges it’s not that complicated for them to switch plus BA would then still have the lounge complex for long haul.

          • ChrisC says:

            Not quite.

            Easy was split across the two and both they and LGW wanted to consolidate in one terminal which meant VS moving from South to North and BA doing the reverse.

            Buit it’s nopt just about lounges it’s about operating the right size of terminal for the current level of ops. LGW needs to save cash just as much as the airlines do.

          • Yorkieflyer says:

            Gatwick would not want to upset their last remaining large customer, EasyJet, by making them move

      • Krishnan R. Iyengar says:

        The North Terminal was built 30 years after what is today’s South Terminal opened (1988). So, it could be a question of maintenance costs as well. It generally costs more to maintain older buildings. Therefore, it probably makes more sense to consolidate all traffic in the newer terminal until demand has recovered sufficiently to justify running both terminals side-by-side again. Should be depart from the South Terminal (to which it had ironically moved only three years ago) for good, GAL would probably need at least another big anchor tenant such as Wizzair or Ryanair (ideally both) to justify reopening the South Terminal. Realistically, I can’t see this happening before summer 2021 at the earliest, possibly even summer 2022. And this problem of excess airport terminal capacity isn’t unique to LGW. In fact, LHR had closed both T3 and T4 in the immediate wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Amongst these, the future of T4 is even less secure than that of LGW’s South Terminal because it is “on the wrong side of the right airport”. T4’s location makes it inconvenient for transferring to / from flights that use the terminals on the other side of the airport. In the days when BA operated its long-haul flights out of T4 and short-haul out of the old T1 on the other side of the airport, this was BA’s proverbial “Achilles heel” that put many passengers off from changing flights with the airline at LHR, with many preferring AMS (and actually even changing between LGW North and South could be accomplished in less time). Before Covid-19, there was talk of EZY establishing a new LHR base in T4 as they’re not dependent on transfer traffic as most traditional full-service airlines are. But I think these plans have been shelved for the foreseeable future (in my opinion until 2024 / 25 at least) as EZY have just pulled out of STN (after many years) and SEN (after ter only a few years) and instead consolidated their LON traffic in to LGW (south of the Thames) and LTN (north of the Thames). As for LHR T3, I think that that Terminal is going to be replaced by a new midfield satellite linked to T5 given that it is the LON area’s second oldest airport terminal (after LGW South). If both LHR T3 and T4 get eliminated, the designation odds the remaining two Terminal’s is likely to change to LHR East (T2) and LHR West (T5).

    • Lady London says:

      South Terminal is older and guessing its smaller as well. Just like a major department store in a mall, I’m guessing the volume of flights Easyjet will still maintain is what’s kept the North Terminal open.

      • Krishnan R. Iyengar says:

        You’re right as far as the South Terminal’s age is concerned: it opened way back in 1958 (as opposed to the North Terminal which opened in 1988). But you’re wrong as far as terminal capacity is concerned: the South Terminal is actually the bigger of the two.

  • John says:

    Do you think this new low cost airline going to be British Airways in Disguise ? Whilst BA is so keen to change all it’s Employees Terms and conditions and bring there wages down, so much for loyalty .
    They tried this once before in the name of Flying Colours … it’s just a thought

  • DV says:

    They could call it GO and have memorable branding and a jingle for the TV advert.

  • Chris K says:

    Surprised no-one has pointed out that Jersey isn’t part of the United Kingdom. Even if ITA Matrix, Google Flights etc think it is. (And for most flying related purposes, it effectively is)

    Still, makes the Ex-JER options a bit more appealing without the coach and worry associated with the M25. Sad news for the Gatwick staff though. Always liked that airport and hope airlines come back soon.

  • Matt says:

    I’m not sure about the comment “nobody was connecting to long haul at LGW”. I have flown the MCO and TPA flights quite a lot and there is often quite a few passengers and labelled bags that have connected at LGW from Scotland or Europe. However I wouldn’t be surprised to see these 2 routes move to LHR as they can have a bit of corporate traffic.

    Just because there is no “owned” maintenance doesn’t mean that there is no maintenance. I suspect the maintenance redundancies are about a strategy to move to third party maintenance which will allow flexibility given the uncertainty.

    There’s a lot 737MAX options that might get cancelled if there is no LGW short haul base, but they are a while off.

    • BrightonReader says:

      IAG has no MAX options.

      There is a Letter of Intent but that is not the same as order or even options for orders.

      I see this LOI getting torn up once Willie has finally retired from IAG.

      • Opus says:

        I doubt. IAG has let their A320neo options expire. Especially for BA. They only have 10 of those. Also this deal was Steve gunning more than WW

    • Alan says:

      Indeed, I don’t quite understand this comment either – lots of people connected at LGW onto longhaul. I can’t see many people risking a misconnect flying with another short-haul carrier into LGW so this will be a good boost for business to KLM (and deservedly so).

  • Lady London says:

    That’s a bugg*r if only the North Terminal is going to remain open at Gatwick. Huge swathes of times had appeared as soon as the Aspire Lounge took the contract with Qatar, when you simply couldnt get in because they had to hold seats for QR. If BA brings its passengers as well then nice revenue for the lounge but forget access anytime for anyone else.

    No.1 lounge North has really lost its quality over the past 2-3 years. Due to insufficient staffing and switching to low quality food offering. The rationed one drink always seemed mean (and i dont take alcohol there). MyLounge North is poor.

    Now that Aspire’s blocked I shan’t bother with any lounge at Gatwick. You’ll find me in Pret, unfortunately not on Mon-Weds in August!

    For anyone’s info Gatwick has added benches with plugs to charge laptops just asbyou exit the main airside area towards the lounges since late last year or so.

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