Why Don’t British Airways Fly The Airbus A380 To New York?

London to New York is one of British Airways’ most prestigious routes. Including codeshares with American Airlines, it operates around 16 times per day between the two cities. With this in mind, you may think “Why doesn’t BA Fly the Airbus A380 to New York?”. Simple Flying investigates.

British Airways, Brexit, Willie Walsh
British Airways doesn’t operate the Airbus A380 on its New York route. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

With the number of daily flights between London to New York, you might think it could be better to operate a couple of Airbus A380s on the route. After all, the demand is clearly there. However, is this the best option?

Clearly not as British Airways, a leader on the route have never operated the aircraft on that route. In fact, only one single Airbus A380 ever has operated from London to New York.

Infrastructure

A key consideration in planning any aircraft route is “can the destination take my aircraft?”. Indeed, Norwegian found this out the hard way when they chartered HiFly’s Airbus A380 around a year ago. Due to the ongoing Trent 1000 engine crisis, the carrier was down a Boeing 787, and the A380 was what replaced it.

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HiFly A380
Hi Fly’s Airbus A380 was flown to New York by Norwegian last year. Photo: HiFly

Unfortunately, according to One Mile At A Time, this was not a huge success. At the time Norwegian’s Airbus A380 was due to land at JFK, Terminal 1’s existing Airbus A380 gates were saturated, meaning that the Norwegian flight was delayed every day. This eventually led to the airline temporarily rescheduling their flights rather than sit on the ground at JFK.

Timing is everything

While the above point is certainly interesting, it is not something that would necessarily give British Airways a hard time. British Airways utilizes Terminal 7 at JFK, where they could conceivably convert gates to take Airbus A380s if necessary. However, the airline instead opts to operate both the Boeing 747 and 777 on the London to JFK route. While British Airways is due to retire the Boeing 747 before too long, it will operate its new Club Suite to JFK on select Boeing 777 flights.

In 2014 Simon Calder of the Independent wrote:

“There are evening flights from JFK as little as 20 minutes apart. That schedule is ideal for high-value executives who travel on flexible tickets and are unsure what time they will get to the airport: if there is a seat is available, and there usually is, they just step aboard the next flight.”

British Airways Airbus A380 New York
British Airways operates the Boeing 747 and 777 to New York. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

While that figure is now as little as 30 minutes apart, the principle still stands. Between London and New York, frequency is key. As such, if the airline was to put Airbus A380s into the schedule, and cut the number of flights, then the convenience of frequent departures would be lost. This could lead passengers to switch to another airline with more flexibility.

Is flexibility a key factor in flying between London and New York for you? Let us know in the comments!

10 comments
  1. Emirates run 12 A380s a day between Dubai and London…a combination of high frequency and high capacity.
    Apart from business passengers who don’t yet know what flight they’re going to catch, there are also economy passengers in the equation; and an A380 can carry more of both. There’s plenty of demand on that route…otherwise Virgin, Norwegian and the US carriers wouldn’t be able to take such a large slice of the cake. BA just doesn’t seem to be interested in increasing its share.

  2. The whole rationale for the A380 was to ease congestion at slot-constrained airports. That is what Airbus was saying in 2000, even before the program was officially launched. JFK is the only slot-contrained international airport in the US. LHR-JFK is the most heavily traveled international route of its length in the world. If ever there was a route for which the A380 was tailor-made, this is it. The fact that the A380 does not fly the route shows that Airbus’s entire justification for the program was a fiction.

    1. Perhaps you missed this part:

      Unfortunately, according to One Mile At A Time, this was not a huge success. At the time Norwegian’s Airbus A380 was due to land at JFK, Terminal 1’s existing Airbus A380 gates were saturated, meaning that the Norwegian flight was delayed every day. This eventually led to the airline temporarily rescheduling their flights rather than sit on the ground at JFK.

      Pretty hard to fly an aircraft to a destination that doesn’t have a gate that can accept your aircraft, no?

    2. Well, the A380 rationale wasn’t necessarily incorrect; in this particular case, there’s also the fact that the USA doesn’t invest heavily in infrastructure (of any type). We know how Joe Biden famously compared New York airports to third-world facilities. LAX and SFO have adequate A380 facilities…New York just didn’t bother to get its act together to any great degree.
      On a related note, not a single sea port in the USA (east coast, west coast or gulf coast) can accommodate a ULCV container ship…whereas Rotterdam can take 5 simultaneously. Does this indicate a failure of the ULCV concept? Not at all…the rest of the world uses large numbers of them on a daily basis.

  3. Also, British Airways’ Terminal 7 does not have gates needed to accommodate the Airbus A380, and with terminal redevelopment plans at JFK long envisioning BA moving its operations over to its anti-trust immunized, joint venture partner American Airlines’ Terminal 8 currently anticipated around 2022/23 to allow for a planned $13 billion complete overhaul/reconfiguration of JFK’s passenger terminals (already announced by NY State Governor Cuomo and now in design phase), it didn’t really make sense to make the type of investment that would be required to make enough gates at BA’s soon-to-be torn down JFK T7 A380 capable.

    If anything, given the high proportion of very LOW density, “Super-High ‘J’” Boeing 747-400s (as in almost as many premium class seats as there are for Main Cabin for total of just 275 seats across all four classes) BA operates between LHR and JFK, competing on price, volume and capacity is NOT that airline’s objective, where it already has the distinction of operating the world’s sole $1 billion route trading off low margin/high volume pax for the far more profitable premium heavy pax it carries on its 275 pax 747-400 flying living rooms.

    And unless/until/if ever London Heathrow gets a 3rd runway built where the four airlines whose respective, anti-trust immunized alliances, BA + AA’s oneworld plus DL’s + its 49.9% owned partner, Virgin Atlantic (not yet technically part of SkyTeam, but likely eventually) really means there’s just TWO entities with absolute control for all flights on one of the world’s most heavily travelled routes that already is disproportionately premium class heavy, those two anti-trust immunized joint ventures have ZERO need, or desire, to flood the market with high capacity aircraft, A380s especially, when those two already have an impenetrable lock on the market.

    So, apart from physical gate constraints at BA’s JFK T7 that didn’t warrant the cost to reconfigure its very small, 1960s designed terminal for A380s ahead of planned demolition once NY State got its plans together to redevelop JFK, there also isn’t any need to upset the very cozy, and VERY profitable cartel/duopoly that BA, AA, DL & VS on a route that for BA alone pulls in over $1 billion per year!

    Cheers!

  4. So does that also mean they’re protecting their Heathrow slots? I still remember reading ‘Dirty Tricks’ about their antics in the 80’s

  5. Is it also possible that BA have factored in the potential disruption if their A380s were put on this maxed out route with a revised schedule and one went tech? Swapping 777s and 747s around isn’t a huge problem (it’s happened to me on a couple of occasions) but trying to find seats for over 400 pax is a whole different ballgame.

    A few years ago I experienced how messed up things on this route can get when a BA 747 LHR-JFK suffered a glitch in the pa/entertainment system as we were being pushed back. It was a five minute fix (just needed re-booting) out on remote stand but we then had to wait onboard for about two hours while the flight was re-slotted. At JFK the late arrival messed up the arrangements for staffing immigration and customs so we had over another hour’s delay there. Imagine what that would be like with a full A380?

    Despite Willie Walsh’s recent comments BA don’t seem to have any inclination to expand their A380 fleet and with just 12 aircraft any routes served by the aircraft must be pretty vulnerable to downtime issues.

  6. The terminal BA uses at JFK is not suitable for the A380. Also, if i may make an observation, Willie Walsh makes good short term decisions but longer term strategies are iffy and the efforts to set up IAG low cost carriers I feel would be better placed to support the core business.

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