Air France Once Flew London To Los Angeles Flights – Here’s Why It Failed

Air France used to fly between London and Los Angeles. Not via a connection in Paris, but nonstop using a Boeing 777. The airline operated this flight in conjunction with a partnership with Delta Air Lines. However, the service did not last long, and, after only a few months, Air France axed the route.

Air France
Air France used to fly a Boeing 777 between London and California Photo: Air France

Air France once flew between Los Angeles and London

In spring 2008, Air France flew its first nonstop flight between London-Heathrow (LHR) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The route operated with a Boeing 777-200 with seating for 263 passengers onboard.

Air France launched the route as part of a transatlantic joint venture agreement with Delta Air Lines. The two airlines agreed to share revenues and costs on flights between London-Heathrow and the US and flights between Air France hubs Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Lyon (LYS) and Delta’s hubs Atlanta (ATL), JFK, Cincinnati (CVG), and Salt Lake City (SLC).

Air France
There was room for 263 on the plane. Photo: Air France

Complementing Air France’s service, Delta launched flights from Atlanta and JFK to London Heathrow. At the time, Delta used its workhorse Boeing 767-300ERs on the route with seating for up to 216 passengers.

What was the Open Skies treaty?

The US-EU Open Skies Agreement went into effect on March 30th, 2008. Before then, only two US carriers and two UK airlines could fly nonstop from Heathrow to the US. Those were American, United, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic. Delta, Northwest, and Continental could only fly to London-Gatwick– which all three did.

Capitalizing on the new liberalization at Heathrow, Delta, Northwest, and Continental all moved to add their own flights to London’s main international gateway. Also, in 2008, all three of these airlines were part of the SkyTeam alliance.

British Airways Heathrow aircraft line up
British Airways dominated London-Heathrow and still is the airport’s largest airline. Photo: Getty Images

In addition, the Open Skies agreement allowed any airline based in the EU and any airline based in the United States to fly from any point in the EU to any point in the United States. This means that European airlines could fly from any European city to any American city regardless of their home country without having to request fifth freedom permissions.

But why LAX to LHR?

A Cranky Flier post from 2008 states that British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, United, American Airlines, and Air New Zealand (on a fifth-freedom route that has now ended) all flew between Heathrow and Los Angeles. While there were plenty of airlines on the route, no SkyTeam carriers were flying between the two major metropolitan areas.

Aircraft at LAX
Plenty of foreign airlines fly into Los Angeles. Photo: Getty Images

Air France’s flight was likely meant to fill in the gap. At the time, Delta was working on building up its Los Angeles operations in early 2008, and the new Air France flight would have been excellent feed.

So why did the route fail?

Business Traveller reported in October 2008 that Air France was cutting the flight after about seven months in operation. This was the first true Open Skies experiment– and it more or less failed. However, it was not exactly a failure by design, per se, but more because of circumstances.

Delta 757
A Delta Boeing 757 in Los Angeles. Photo: Getty Images

The financial crisis in the summer marked 2008. One of the significant events, the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, occurred just a few weeks before Air France decided to drop the route.

The economic crisis took its toll on airlines. In 2008, Delta Air Lines lost just under $9 billion– a whopping sum. In response, the carrier cut capacity– which included a scale-back at Los Angeles (LAX). Plus, with lower international travel demand, it was not surprising to see Air France exit the route entirely.

Beyond the circumstances, a route like this is difficult to master. Without healthy connecting feed, the route almost certainly relies on origin & destination (O&D) traffic. With that many competitors, however, airlines have to rely on brand loyalty to get the customers they need. Air France did not have either in Los Angeles or London. Without a financial crisis, the route could have worked.

American and Delta Planes at LAX
LAX is also a very competitive airport. Photo: Getty Images

Delta flew the route briefly in conjunction with Virgin Atlantic before handing it over entirely to the British carrier, which operated twice-daily flights. Granted, the Virgin-Delta partnership offered connections on both ends. Air France and KLM are also part of the agreement with two airlines.

Did you ever fly Air France’s nonstop flights from London to Los Angeles? Let us know in the comments!