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I want to start by making clear that this is pure conjecture on my part at this stage, but a couple of recent things made me wonder, are BA planning to expand to regional airports?
Now obviously, British Airways already serve a bunch of UK airports, but (with a few seasonal short-haul exceptions), those flights are just domestic hops to/from London. What I’m talking about is proper long-haul services.
Why expanding to the regions might make sense for BA
BA have been busy expanding transatlantic destinations from London rapidly, with the latest being Las Vegas and Toronto from Gatwick. As Ben over at US blog OMAAT observes, the two key driving factors behind the growing list of routes are the relative efficiency of Boeing 787s and the perceived threat from Norwegian Air and other long-haul low cost carriers.
787s allow airlines to serve routes that may not have made financial sense previously – direct flights on ‘long and thin’ routes, like BA’s flights to Nashville or San Jose for example.
BA’s preoccupation with Norwegian is well-known (whether Norwegian is a genuine threat or not is a very different question of course), and the airline has taken a number of competitive counter-measures to help maintain market share.
Bearing those two things in mind, I think there’s a clear argument for BA to offer direct flights to major cities (particularly in the US) from the regions. Norwegian (and others) are already doing it, and are presumably already taking a share of the passengers who would otherwise have booked with BA via London.
Norwegian and the other low cost carriers have to rely purely on low fares to fill planes though, whereas British Airways (despite everything) still have a compelling brand. BA can also offer premium cabins with lie-flat seats – I’m not sure how First would work, but can certainly see Business Class doing well, as long as the cabin wasn’t too large. Lounges are already in place too, so there wouldn’t have to be any real investment in that.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking high frequencies here by the way, certainly not more than 1-2 flights per day (probably less).
The second thing that made me think BA might actually be considering something like this was the news that BA’s partner American Airlines are dropping their Manchester – New York JFK route. On the face of it, it would seem quite easy for BA to take the route over, and would be a low-risk way to test the regional waters.
As I said at the start, the question of BA planning to expand to regional airports is completely open – I have no insider knowledge on this whatsoever. That said, from the outside at least, it could well make good sense.
BA gets a bit of a hard time (often from me…), but I would be genuinely very happy to see the introduction of long-haul services from non-London airports.
What do you think?