British Airways will become the first UK scheduled airline to fly non-stop from mainland Europe to the US in June this year.

The airline has announced the launch of its Open Skies subsidiary, which will initially fly from either Brussels or Paris CDG to New York (JFK or Newark).

The new carrier’s fleet will initially comprise a single B757 taken from the existing BA fleet. A second B757 will join the fleet later this year and this will enable Open Skies flights from both Brussels and Paris CDG.

BA chief executive Willie Walsh said yesterday: “This is an exciting new venture for us and we’re confident that it will be a great success as we build on the strength of British Airways’ brand in the US and Europe.”

Each B757 will be configured for 82 seats in a three-class layout. There will be 24 business class seats (fully-flat beds with 72 inches of legroom, which will in fact be reconditioned “old” Club World seats), 28 premium economy (with 52 inches of legroom) and 30 in regular economy.

Exact starting date and schedules have yet to be confirmed, largely as a result of uncertainty as to whether British Airways can secure slots at JFK in New York, its preferred choice of Stateside airport according to commercial director Robert Boyle.

BA is unlikely to allow interlining (with other carriers) for passengers wishing to make connections in Brussels or Paris CDG, but details remain scarce. Executive Club members will also wonder if points can be earned (and redeemed) on the new airline.

The move is sure to be popular with US fans of British Airways wanting to fly into Europe while avoiding Heathrow, and it seems “open jaw” tickets will be available allowing passengers to fly into, say Paris, then return with a stopover in London if desired.

For the moment, BA is likely to have this new market to itself. Rival Virgin Atlantic said last year that it would also mount US flights from mainland Europe (see online news, June 4), but recently abandoned its plans, claiming the project is “too risky.”

In fact, not only does Virgin not have any suitable planes; it would also have struggled to establish itself in markets like Paris CDG, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Zurich because it lacks BA’s brand identity, route network and strong loyalty programme.

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