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British Airways considers quitting Gatwick airport permanently – report

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According to a report in The Telegraph, British Airways is considering leaving London Gatwick for good.

A review has reportedly been launched into the mechanics of concentrating all mainline flights at Heathrow.

Why? What a surprise – it’s the slots.

British Airways leaving Gatwick Airport

The Telegraph says that the order has come from parent company IAG – possibly implying that British Airways management is not in favour – which is paranoid about the long term impact of losing take-off and landing slots at Heathrow.

As we have covered many times on Head for Points since covid appeared, an airline has to use an airport slot on 80% of dates. If it fails to do so, the slot is automatically forfeited and made available to any other airline which wants it.

There are two slot ‘seasons’, Winter and Summer, with switchover dates in late March and late October. There are separate slot pools for each season.

Since Spring 2020, the slot rules have been suspended. With some caveats, British Airways can run as few flights as it wants at present with no risk of having the slots taken away.

At some point, possibly next Spring but almost certainly in Autumn 2022, this waiver will end.

Without a waiver, British Airways will have to start running its full pre-covid schedule or it will start to forfeit slots. This simply isn’t possible – with the retirement of the Boeing 747 fleet, I doubt it has enough aircraft to do so, even if it wanted to.

Without a slot waiver, moving British Airways flights from Gatwick to Heathrow is the easiest – and probably only – way to ensure that the airline keeps its full slot portfolio.

Luis Gallego, chief executive of IAG, reportedly told analysts last month that:

“Gatwick is an important decision that we need to take as a group. It’s true that we have the issue with the slots.

“Gatwick has some strategic value, but we need to be competitive there. This crisis is going to change the profile … of the demand. So we are analysing the different options.”

The Telegraph article is here (paywall).

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Comments (108)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Keith Taylor says:

    Good news for us folks based in the north (NCL) as getting to Gatwick is a real pain!

  • Nick says:

    Absolutely BA won’t like this…
    – Gatwick has a huge customer base, a lot of whom won’t travel further for BA (at least shorthaul) and will just use someone else
    – lower costs, both internal and external (PSC) – and a big lever to beat LHR with
    – if they pull out, Wizz will explode to eat their lunch like easyJet once did

    On the other hand, of course LHR slots are a risk, and IAG is a very risk-averse company. So it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.

    Virgin is another consideration. If they’re not at Gatwick any more, there’s little longhaul competition there. I guess IAG are assuming no one will grow to take their place, which limits loss to the competition… but also means the Kent/Sussex/SouthLondon holidaying crowd could have a pretty grim few years.

    • Alex Sm says:

      and Norwegian too – they are waiting to revive like a phoenix after the crisis

    • Callum says:

      I really don’t think BA can play Heathrow off against Gatwick. If BA downsized then Heathrow could pretty much instantly replace them (in normal times of course).

      I don’t remember many people in my part of Kent finding the journey to Heathrow noticeably more arduous than Gatwick. Though that being said, many would fly from Stansted and Luton so we probably weren’t the core BA demographic!

  • James Vickers says:

    I would be happy with this coming from the Midlands! Hate getting to Gatwick but did it in the past because was often a fair bit cheaper

  • Lou says:

    It’s a tough one. My biggest gripe with Heathrow is getting there by public transport. Based in the SW London area, my options are the bus…. and… That’s it! Despite being miles away from Heathrow as the crow flies, it takes just as long if traffic is good by car/taxi to Heathrow as it does by train to Gatwick. When the traffic is bad, god help you…

    • Oh! Matron! says:

      Not sure where you are in sw London, but I agree. I do occasionally take the x26 from Kingston as it stops once in teddington and is stress free

      But, there’s no feasible way to get the train that doesn’t include a change onto the bus and then a change on to the underground. The Feltham ‘ Staines line does have the option of being routed into T5, but T5 alone

      • Oh! Matron! says:

        Such a small amount of new track would make such a hell of a difference to SW London

        • Oh! Matron! says:

          Dammit, pasty’s the link

          • Nick says:

            Absolutely… but the problem with that route is the level crossings between Barnes and Richmond. The nimby locals there have effectively killed the whole scheme because they refuse to allow more trains to use the line. The stretch into the airport is not really controversial at all and could easily be built if the Richmonders allow it. As it happens, there’s now more chance of a link to Woking actually operating (using the same access route to the airport), despite it being more than 10x more expensive.

          • Lou says:

            Interesting, but I don’t think it really addresses the Kingston/Wimbledon area. It’s quite amazing how connections into C London area great, but heaven forbid you want to nip into, say, Ealing

      • Lou says:

        Ah the x26… The number of times I’ve had to call an Uber because it just did not turn up. Or my absolute favourite from 3 years ago when I flew back from NY in economy (company travel policy…), decided to get the x26, and one only turned up 2 hours later. Servers me right for trying to save the company some cash….

        • Chrisasaurus says:

          After the same company flew you back in Y? Yes it does serve you right!

    • Distichon says:

      I’m in Cambridge, and even from there, it’s significantly easier to reach Gatwick than Heathrow. In theory, it’s takes slightly longer… But direct train vs needing to switch twice, with luggage, and suddenly it’s no contest.

      I never understood why Heathrow is such a disaster to get to for almost everyone by anything but car and taxi?

      • Will says:

        As someone who comes from the west country I totally agree with you.

        It’s why I object to its enlargement.

  • Harry Holden says:

    With little connecting traffic, LGW only works for those south of the Thames. A horrible airport and on the bucket and spade routes, full of horrible people with more brass than sense. If we cannot have a Northern base, moving LGW operations to LHR will be a huge improvement.

    • Lady London says:

      There is a fast quite frequent connection from Shepherds Bush to Gatwick for those in Central West/West London as well as Thameslink connection eg Kings Cross Blackfriars Farringon Elstree as well as slower connections on the rail line from West Hampstead.

  • Aaron C says:

    When I lived in Kent we always preferred LGW and I imagine most of the Kent/Surrey/Sussex market feels the same.
    Now I’m elsewhere it would be good to have more options to connect via LHR rather the the 4hr drive to LGW.

  • Mike says:

    I once read an article about London’s worst train stations, and Victoria was the worst. One of the reasons was, it’s also the station to London’s worst airport. Well done BA

    • John says:

      Do you really prefer STN and LTN over LGW?

      • Matarredonda says:

        STN is a vile airport
        For me coming from North Essex much prefer Gatwick and hate the thought of using Heathrow.

  • Paul says:

    IF it does happen, it will be interesting to see what happens to Mediterranean traffic. In pre-Covid days, the large numbers of flights returning from the Med to Gatwick between around 2230 and 0330 will presumably have to be scrapped or based elsewhere, or lose an entire rotation for the day, unless Heathrow’s night curfew will be lifted of course…

    • Kevin D says:

      Very good point. Gatwick handles a lot of leisure travellers. A lot more price sensitive. IAG have to decide if protecting LHR slots is worth losing some of this revenue.

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