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British Airways gains 86 weekly Heathrow slots from Flybe – what happens next?

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Back in April 2021, the ‘new’ Flybe Mark 2 picked up 86 weekly Heathrow slots (43 pairs) from British Airways.

These were to be used initially for flights to Aberdeen and Edinburgh, although that later changed.

Last week, with Flybe Mark 2 dead and buried, these slots returned to British Airways. Let’s look at what may happen next.

BMI rescue slots Heathrow

It’s a long story ….

This is one of the longest sagas in UK aviation.  It has been running since 2012 and shows no sign of being concluded for good at any time soon.

The story behind all this goes back to the acquisition of bmi British Midland by British Airways.  The European Commission insisted that British Airways release a number of Heathrow slot pairs to any competitor which wished to begin services on selected routes where bmi competed with British Airways at Heathrow.

The routes with competition concerns were:

  • Aberdeen
  • Edinburgh
  • Nice
  • Cairo
  • Riyadh
  • Moscow

Little Red, Virgin Atlantic’s short haul airline, was the first airline to ask for – and receive – slots.   It used them to fly to Aberdeen and Edinburgh.   Little Red also flew to Manchester but this used spare Virgin Atlantic slots.

When Little Red folded in 2014, the slots returned to British Airways.

Virgin Little Red

The slots were then requested by Flybe Mark 1, again for use on Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

There were two carrots in the rules for whichever airline came in:

  • after one full year of operation, the airline could ask for additional slots from British Airways which could be used on ANY European short haul route as long as not all of the 12 daily slot pairs to be divested had been allocated (this is how Flybe Mark 1 got slots for some of its other Heathrow services)
  • after three full years of operation, the airline could stop serving cities on the prescribed list (ie Edinburgh and Aberdeen, in Flybe’s case) and start serving other European destinations instead

It looks like the second point above had kicked in, because some of the slots returned had been most recently allocated to Newquay, Amsterdam, Newcastle and Belfast. This would imply that the one year and three year clocks had not reset when Flybe Mark 1 went bankrupt and Flybe Mark 2 took on the slots.

BMI Heathrow remedy slots

It is not fully clear what happens now.

The agreement between IAG and the European Commission is here.  I cannot see any obvious reference to it ‘timing out’.

Can another airline still request these 43 weekly slots from British Airways to fly to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Nice, Cairo, Riyadh or Moscow? Or, 11 years on, is this finally over with British Airways finally allowed to keep the slots and use them for whatever it wants (and pocket an attractive windfall, given their value)?

It also isn’t clear how the ‘use it or lose it’ rule will be applied here. Even if BA starts flying each slot between now and the end of the Winter season in late March, will they hit the 80% utilisation target to avoid it being forfeited? With no Flybe flights for the last three weeks, the slots have been unused for over 10% of the current flying season and who knows if Flybe had been running them all at 100% capacity before that?


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Comments (89)

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

  • Robert says:

    86 more slots! Currently sat in North lounge, both N&S are full, would be interesting to see the demographic between actual biz ticket holders and pax with silver/gold in economy. I’m sure a dedicated biz lounge must be on its way.

    • tony says:

      What would that achieve? I always find the Lufthansa business/senator delineation somewhat comical. They just need to either make the lounges bigger, reduce access or make better use of the b gate lounge. Am sure there are many instances where pax can be proactively sent there.

      Interesting side note. Was in the t5n lounge on Tuesday. Was very busy but staff on top of matters. We got 2 seats, i then get a text survey from ba. Flagged the busy nature (queuing for the gents – that’s how busy). By the time we left, front desk staff had been replaced by “bouncers” turning everyone away. Not sure how long that lasted but they are aware.

    • Phillip says:

      I expect after the reduced thresholds and the double tier points for BA Holidays there will be some reduction in Silver/Gold members but that won’t be for a couple more years. The stats would certainly make for an interesting read!

      • tony says:

        I do wonder what impact this offer has versus it being a consequence of higher spending on leisure travel, where people get access just off the back of the ticket. Yes it will have tipped a few people over the TP limit but it can’t be the problem otherwise the extension wouldn’t have been made on the deal, surely?

        • Phillip says:

          Quite possibly. Which is why the stats would be interesting. That said, given how many people were on direct returns to Sofia towards the end of the year on nested or other bookings suggests to me that there has been a push for status beyond what would be the case without the reduced thresholds etc.
          I also see a significant proportion of passengers who are in the priority boarding groups and fly in Economy, but again, that’s my gauge, not the actual statistics.
          As for Gold and First Lounge – I find that the First lounge is very often overcrowded too. Especially during certain windows in the morning and afternoon.

    • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

      That means 43 departing flights as arrivals done get lounge access!

    • Harry T says:

      Why would Gold be in the Galleries lounges?

      • Harry T says:

        And not the Flounge?

        • Scott says:

          Sometimes they offer food items that are better than the flounge. Have had things like pork pies in there which hit the spot more than a dry fishcake or whatever.
          TV room, if it’s still there, could be nice to lie in and have a nap.

        • Andrew J says:

          Both are Galleries. It’s Galleries Club and Galleries First.

        • Lady London says:

          Concorde is the real Flounge isn’t it?

  • Lost in France says:

    Enough for 7 new daily routes, that’s quite something.

    Views on where – if unfettered – BA would want to add to their pre pandemic network?

  • ms says:

    Forget Riyadh! British Airways PLEASE BRING BACK FLIGHTS TO JEDDAH! SV is destroying customers without any competition on JED-LHR!

    Pre BA cancellation you would be able to get a return to JED for about £400-£450. Now SV regularly screws people into buying £1k econ returns!

    • lumma says:

      Fly to Budapest then Wizzair Budapest to Jeddah?

      • Jonathan says:

        Yeah that’s a crazy cheap way of flying to Saudi Arabia, there’s not much choice with travel dates, but then again you can still go via SOF / VCE just to name a couple, and you’ll be picking up return flights around £250 (overnight connection required on return) compared to the big carriers charging around £700 for their cheapest Economy tickets.
        If you do go via Wizz Air, you essentially have to do a build yourself a Business Class package, or as close as you’ll get to one, but you can still of course access row 1 !

  • Lady London says:

    Manchester must be feeling very left out.

    All these slots coming and going and yet no solid commitment to a decent bandwidth of flights from the UK’s second city to its first city and main international airline hub.

    It would be nice if any more slots put into use were designated as at least x for Manchester-London, then perhaps LGW-MAN/Scotland. Not to forget the big reduction NCL has had too.

    • Novice says:

      @LL, Totally agree. It’s easier to go long haul via other countries than it is to go via LON from Man.

    • Mike Hunt says:

      Some of these slots must be allocated to the Levelling Up agenda in order to better connect the regions

      • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

        Levelling up is more.

        But even if such slots were earmarked it takes an airline that is ready, willing and able to fly the routes.

      • James Baxter says:

        Yes – but Mike Hunt – IAG is not a charity or arm of Govt (nationalised industry). If Govt decides that they want to encourage links to the levelling up airports from London, they (ie the taxpayer) will have to subsidise the routes.

        Because BA wouldn’t otherwise judge it a good idea financially to fly them.

        That’s just a political decision but it wouldn’t have my support. If I lived up there in the grim North, I’d probably agree with you.

        Here’s the deal. The BBC gets £3.8 billon from the licence fee. I don’t watch the BBC that often so I resent paying my very high licence fee. What a lot or complete rubbish they produce.

        Let’s cut £1 billion from the BBC budget and give it to subsidising regional connections.

        Happy with my plan?

        • Richie says:

          I’m too busy maximising points opportunities to worry about the cost of the licence fee.

          • James Baxter says:

            It irritates me rather than worries me.

            As in (quote) ‘BBC chief Tim Davie told regional staff that it is “truly amazing” that UK households are “happy” paying a forced licence fee.’ The BBC boss can’t believe the UK population is so stupid/ gullible.

            We’re not happy. We don’t like BBC content, on the whole. It is just a legal necessity (to pay it) if you want to watch live TV.

            What a shower of piffle you get from the BBC. Sky News gives much better/ balanced news coverage. The creative content is really downmarket these days, ie catering to the lowest common denominator.

            Sure – I just pay it and can’t be a***ed to go off grid, I prefer to stay legal – but a massive s***storm is coming BBC’s way and I don’t mean sand. The sooner they have to stand on their own two feet as a commercial organisation, the better. My 3 kids, all adults, simply don’t watch anything on BBC, ever. I watch about 1 hr a week.

            In the last year, all I remember is Rogue Heroes and Garners’ World.

        • Erico1875 says:

          Educational content on BBC is brilliant

          • Rob says:

            Like what?

          • Novice says:

            @Erico 1875, I agree. I don’t mind paying because Attenborough and Simon Reeve sort of justify the cost.

            Not bothered about anything else on bbc but anything coming out of OU production partnership is worth watching. The science and natural world stuff. I’m a history geek and I pretty much learned everything fascinating through bbc and not my actual education.

            That might be because I actually didn’t choose the classics when studying.

      • James Harper says:

        Levelling up?

        You still believe that?

        How very bizarre.

    • Dan says:

      Because there is a train, many customers do not want people flying ultra SH due to sustainability.

      • Anna says:

        But there very often isn’t a train. Services are so unreliable now, many people have given up on them for other than local journeys. I can drive to Edinburgh or Glasgow in 3 hours, why would I risk my train being cancelled and missing my weekend away, even if there were any services running on Sundays atm (which there aren’t) to get people back for work on Monday?

        • Anna says:

          Many also given up on London as trains are unreliable and cost £100 return (cheapest advance fare!) and the alternative is potentially 6/7 of M6 misery.

          • Anna says:

            Hours!

          • James Baxter says:

            Find a coach and you can go for £2 until 31st March (subsidised by Govt, capped).

          • James Baxter says:

            Just read in The Times that £2 max bus fare carries on until June 30.

            All bus fares capped at £2 for further three months

            Ben Clatworthy – Transport Correspondent
            The £2 cap on bus fares in England will be extended for another three months, ministers announced.

            The Department for Transport (DfT) said the scheme, which was launched in an effort to ease the cost of living crisis, would now run until June 30.

          • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

            Jaes long didtance coaches are excluded from the scheme.

            It applies to local services only.

          • James Baxter says:

            oh booger

          • Rob says:

            Christ! We wish! Any weekend at all it’s absolutely mobbed.

          • Novice says:

            @Anna, agree with everything you have written. I hate the fact that I live near Man but it’s not a great hub. I resent that fact. Every time I see deals bargains etc including good times for flying the flights are always somewhere else. At those times I envy people living in London.

            Atm I’m stuck using various hubs all in other countries depending on which way is my route.

      • Mike says:

        I must have missed that announcement, how often does the train from Manchester Piccadilly go to Heathrow so I can get a long haul flight?

        • Andrew. says:

          Every hour.

          Change at Reading for the RailAir link.

          • Mike says:

            So firstly, that would be there’s isn’t as you have to change. Secondly, the train to Reading is a nightmare from Manchester often rammed to the roof. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on it with luggage. Thirdly that’s a stupidly long journey, what something over 4 hours. Fourthly, National Rail say go via Euston….

            No sensible person would do that journey, and any that would would be well advised to go the day before.

            Hence why people get the MAN-LHR plane.

      • BlueThroughCrimp says:

        I get the train for nothing*.
        I’ve forgone the short haul leg once before and after a Long haul. Never again.

    • Andrew Beaumont says:

      Manchester isn’t the second city though.

      • PerkyPat says:

        No, London is.

      • James Baxter says:

        Cities 2 & 3 are equally unliveable (I worked in Birmingham for nearly 5 rubbish years). I sort of hate London as well so that makes 3 in total.

        I guess I don’t like smelly dirty cities full of uncouth people compared to living in the countryside.

        Give me a lovely village.

    • Flyer flash says:

      Birmingham is the uk’s second city, not Manchester.

      • Mike says:

        The BBC did a survey asking for people to name England’s second and third cities.

        Manchester win the England’s second city poll.

        Manchester also won England’s third city poll.

        • Novice says:

          If the qatari sheikh ends up buying Man Utd then it might actually become a more important city as maybe will see better offers with qatar etc and they already own everything important in London so do their homework…

    • Will says:

      I wonder if there’s any mileage in routing aircraft LON-MAN-destination, ie pick up a partial plane load in Manchester?

      I do agree how poorly connected Manchester is. High speed rail would have made more sense if it aimed to connect airports imho.

      I’m a big fan notionally of connecting LHR and LGW with a super fast train and doing away with that silly 3rd runway at LHR.

      LHR to BRS would also open up an interesting link and it’s basically fields between the two which should make it very small money to connect.

      At the cost per mile of the Paris to Lyon TGV you could get a brand new HS rail link LHR-BRS for under £1 billion.

      What’s the cost of the 3rd runway?

      • Novice says:

        @Will, agree. I have always thought it’s dumb that airports aren’t linked in some way especially on an island not all that big.

  • Ben says:

    Bring back Leeds!

  • Robert says:

    The resumption of the Bkk route would be good..Reports I’ve heard are that Thai nd Eva are caning their direct flights from Heathrow .
    Fares have increased and the service has decreased on both carriers.
    A little competition needed is the order of the day..

    • James Harper says:

      Thai and EVA are operating LHR-BKK as they did pre-pandemic with the exception that Thai are using a 77W instead of the A380 which they are still deliberating about returning to service. Fares are high but no higher than they are on any other route to South East Asia. In any event almost every other east bound airline you can think of operates from their base to BKK and fares are far higher than they were. BA’s re-entry into that market will change nothing unless they are going to flood the market with 5 x A380s daily and rock bottom fares in all classes.

      The best fares I have found have been on AY and LX FWIW.

      • Lady London says:

        Bangkok to Paris was OK on the Thai 380 though. I just wanted to get off though about three hours before we landed as it was a very long flight.

        • Novice says:

          😂 I know the feeling but mine usually happens when something upsets my ocd then seriously nobody wants to know my thoughts in those moments I’d be banned from flying.

      • Talay says:

        My route is LHR-BKK and fares on Eva and Thai are higher than pre covid, with Eva showing a much higher average increase than Thai.

        However, the ME3 and particularly Etihad have pushed prices way past Eva and Thai on many dates where pre covid they would be around 60/70% of Thai and Eva pricing. Eva particularly had very flat pricing, Thai less so but far more stable than the ME3.

        What have gone are the much cheaper Etihad options from ARN, OSL and to a degree HEL. Sweden or Norway return to Bangkok could be had often for a little over £1000 and sometimes less than £1000 any any date, the price difference versus ex LHR was over £1000, often over £1500, except when Etihad stopped playing around and put fares back at circa £1750-2250.

        However, as I heard that BA thought Bangkok a low price route and now they go to Oz via Singapore and with everyone sitting on multiple Amex 241 and a million Avios each, if BA came back on LHR-BKK with Club Suites, then demand would go through the roof !

  • Pablo says:

    Expedia is selling non-stop Aer Lingus MAN-JFK flights in business class for £965 return. Fare valid from October onwards.

  • MT says:

    Fantasy routes, how about serving LHR -> KUL -> BNE -> AKL pls. Qld gov would probo given them a nice little subsidy.

    • VALittleRed says:

      That’s quite a complex routing with 3 stops and not sure would be worthwhile for BA given the operational complexities in such a route. Might possibly be worth doing LHR>BNE via KUL but the last leg is probably well covered.

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