Bmi to drop Manchester long-haul routes

5 Nov 2008 by Mark Caswell

Bmi is dropping its
long-haul services from Manchester to Chicago, Las Vegas, Barbados and Antigua
from next year.

Flights to
Chicago will cease on January 14, while those to Las Vegas and the Caribbean
will terminate after Easter 2009. The move will Virgin
as the only carrier offering direct flights between the UK and Las
Vegas (out of London Gatwick). In a memo to Bmi staff (which
has been posted on several internet forum sites) CEO Nigel Turner said:

“The Manchester long haul operation began in 2001
due to our inability to access the Heathrow-USA market. The UK Government had
indicated in 2000 that they were prepared to agree a deal with the USA to open Heathrow gradually to competition,
but lobbying by BA and Virgin at the last minute hoodwinked them into changing
their minds, leaving us with only Manchester
services to the USA
for our aircraft.

“Nevertheless, Chicago has generally been a
success up to this year, when a combination of higher fuel prices, increased
competition from both American Airlines in Manchester
and some impact of additional capacity to the USA as a result of open skies at
Heathrow has had a serious negative impact on the results. The reduction in
seats due to the introduction of lie-flat beds in business class and a world
leading premium economy cabin late last year has regretfully led to no
significant increase to overall revenue, and we have been unable to generate an
improved price for our much improved premium products in the Manchester market.
Unfortunately it does seem that Manchester
cannot deliver the levels of premium business that are available from the London market.

“The disappointing revenue performance reflects our best-in-class product being
more than offset by people being increasingly careful with money and
downtrading. Equally it appears the Manchester
long haul market has become significantly more price sensitive in the economy
cabin with people buying purely on price.

“The Caribbean and Las Vegas
routes have always been difficult to see a long term future for. They are
principally leisure routes, are operationally crew hungry and inefficient and
have large seasonal fluctuations. Despite significant efforts to boost revenue
and volume over the past year we have been unable to make any significant
improvements and have insufficient high yielding premium passengers to make the
service profitable.”

The two Manchester-based
A330 aircraft made available by the move will be introduced onto Bmi routes
from London Heathrow to Cairo and Amman in the new year. They
will replace the current A320 and A321 aircraft on these routes, which joined
the Bmi fleet when the carrier acquired Bmed last year.

What is not clear is
whether Bmi will stick with the three class cabins on these A330s (economy,
premium economy and business class), or re-configure them to two classes (with
an extended business class in place of premium economy) as it has done on
mid-haul routes to Saudi
Arabia. And of course in the midst of all this
Lufthansa will complete its takeover of Bmi in January (see online news October

For a review of the
lie-flat business class product onboard Bmi’s A330 aircraft, see our
forthcoming December / January issue of Business Traveller.

For more information

Report by Mark Caswell

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