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The news from BA’s parent company, IAG, has been coming thick and fast over the last 24 hours and adds up to some pretty intriguing stuff.
First, there was the confirmation last night that IAG has managed to snap up Monarch’s old landing slots at Gatwick Airport, following Monarch’s collapse. Monarch had a significant amount of slots (~150 weekly pairs) so this is potentially quite a coup for BA and IAG in their fight against the low cost carriers like Norwegian and EasyJet.
A spokesperson for IAG said that “the majority (my italics) of the slots will be used by British Airways”, which is fairly predictable, but still presents two interesting aspects:
- As (the ever excellent) Rob/Raffles over at HFP explained this morning, there’s a short term problem for British Airways, because in order to keep the slots, they need to use them – and that means getting some aircraft from somewhere because the current fleet is already committed elsewhere. It also raises the possibility of rather bizarre ‘ghost flights’, where empty planes basically just take off and then land again shortly after. I assume there is some sort of plan or exemption already in place though, because you don’t spend £60 million on slots if you’re not going to be able to keep them.
- The use of the word “majority” means that plenty of slots could still be used by other IAG airlines like Iberia, Iberia Express, Vueling and Aer Lingus – or perhaps most interestingly, by new long haul low cost carrier LEVEL.
That leads me to two other bits of IAG related news:
- LEVEL has just announced a new base at Paris Orly Airport, operating flights (from 99 Euros one way!) to Montreal, New York (Newark), Guadeloupe and Martinique. Operations to Montreal and Guadeloupe are scheduled to commence at the start in the first week of July, while flights to New York and Martinique begin in early September.
- BA’s all Business Class subsidiary, ‘Open Skies‘, which currently flies direct between Paris and New York is being discontinued as part of the introduction of LEVEL. The press release states, “LEVEL’s Paris flights will be operated by staff who currently work for IAG’s French airline OpenSkies which is based at the airport. The OpenSkies brand will cease to operate at the end of next summer and all its staff will operate LEVEL flights.”
What’s going on?
I claim no insider knowledge on this, but from the outside it seems fairly obvious that IAG is looking to expand LEVEL into something that can compete with Norwegian and WOWAir when it comes to providing seriously good-value long haul flights.
Gatwick is Norwegian’s main base in the UK, and IAG now has an awful lot of new slots to play with. I would be amazed if we don’t see LEVEL taking up some of those slots in the very near future.
There’s a minor issue about where IAG is going to get the additional planes from if there are short term expansion plans, but things can always be shuffled if there is sufficient will. Longer term, IAG has plenty of options on their order books that it can choose to exercise if it wishes.
What does this mean?
(Hopefully) more choice and lower fares on long haul flights from the UK. I’ve long argued that the increase in competition provided by airlines like Norwegian is the best thing to happen to long haul travel for most travellers in quite a while. As much as we all love the thrill and comfort of travelling Business or First Class, simply having the option to travel affordably and conveniently is the ‘real deal’ in my view, even if it isn’t always terribly comfortable.
Therefore, I take the positive view and will be welcoming LEVEL with open arms if/when it does come to Gatwick – particularly if the plan is to offer more competition to the West Coast of the USA and heading East to Asia and beyond. It’s difficult to see how flights between the UK and the US East Coast could really get any cheaper given you can already get them for a little over £50(!), but there are plenty of other destinations where I’d still like to see new cheap direct flights being offered.
Whether regular BA flyers and status holders will share my optimism, I’m not sure. On the one hand, a cheaper separate brand designed to take on Norwegian etc, could mean that BA itself starts to refocus on competing more on quality/experience than price, which I think many might welcome. On the other hand, LEVEL coming to Gatwick could be the thin end of the wedge if it begins to take over routes that are currently served by BA.
What do you think IAG has in store for us in the future?