News

BA to cut capacity this winter

1 Aug 2008 by Mark Caswell

British Airways will axe a number of routes and flights this winter as it grapples with the soaring cost of aviation fuel.

The carrier says its daily fuel bill is now over £8 million a day or a staggering £3 billion a year. This sum has lowered BA’s profit for the latest financial quarter (April-June) to £37 million as against £298 for the same period last year.

So BA is making economies by chopping underperforming services starting October 26. Overall it means that seat capacity will be cut by 3.1 per cent, although some divisions will escape. Services from Heathrow and Gatwick are worst hit by the cuts whereas those from London City remain largely unaffected.

Richard Tams, BA’s head of corporate sales told Business Traveller that “the objective is to make sure that the cuts won’t compromise the network”.

Gatwick bears the brunt of the route cuts with four services (Poznan, Sarajevo, Dresden and Newquay) being dropped. A further two destinations (Oporto and Valencia) which should have started on October 26 have been shelved. There are also selected flight cuts from individual routes. Manchester sees fewer flights while Toulouse is cut from three flights to two.

But Richard Tams assures Business Traveller readers that BA’s flagship New York JFK service (set to start on October 26) will go ahead as planned.

Heathrow sees selective flight cuts both on long and short-haul routes:

  • Los Angeles is cut from three flights a day for two over a 12 week period.

  • The new service to Hyderabad in India will be delayed to December 6.

  • New York JFK is cut from eight to seven flights a day.

  • Service to Tokyo Narita will be cut from two to one flight a day effective December 7.

But some passengers will be inconvenienced. Regional travellers connecting at Heathrow could find themselves waiting around in transit far longer than planned.

The situation is acute in the case of northwest travellers because the airline will scrap a mid-morning Heathrow-Manchester service. This service is ideal for passengers making connections off overnight long-haul flights with BA and Oneworld partners like American, Cathay Pacific and Qantas. It’s also useful as a “fall back” should your incoming flight be delayed by poor winter weather.

So the daily 1050 hrs Heathrow-Manchester service will be scrapped meaning transfer passengers (who have missed earlier flights) will have to wait until the next service at 1340. The situation is especially bad at weekends with there being no BA northbound service to Manchester between 0740 and 1340. So passengers arriving into Heathrow early on Saturdays from the US or Asia after a busy working week could face hours of hanging around.

Finally, BA says it will buy six new B777-300ERs for delivery in 2010. These large twin-engined planes are said to be 23 per cent more fuel-efficient than the four-engined B747-400s they will replace. And although discerning travellers will lament this move (because the B777 cannot provide the premium cabin ambience of the B747) it seems that fuel efficiency is the name of the game today.

But there is concern that, like Air France and KLM (see Online News, February 14), BA will take the decision to fit these new B777-300ERs with 10-across economy class seating (as against 9-across currently) in order to increase revenues.

BA says the B777-300ER seating configuration has yet to be finalised. But it’s something which Business Traveller will monitor in the months ahead.

For more information go to ba.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

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