British Airways Launches Non Stop Flights To Charleston

In a week when we’re heard far too much about airlines struggling financially or potentially going bust, its nice to get some news about growth. So, we’re pleased to tell you today that British Airways are growing again, adding today a new London to Charleston nonstop route from spring next year.

British Airways is launching a connection between London Heathrow and Charleston, South Carolina
British Airways is launching a connection between London Heathrow and Charleston, South Carolina

Some might say that it would make more sense to add more capacity to the most lucrative routes, but instead BA have been steadily providing transatlantic service to US destinations with limited options. Routes from the UK include Austin, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Jose and Nashville, plus others.

And now there will be one more, as the BA Charleston route takes off. From April 4th, 2019 through to October 24th, 2019, BA Charleston – London Heathrow services will fly twice a week.

At a time when lots of other airlines are cutting back routes, it’s good to see someone is doing OK. However, some question marks remain over their choices. Why that destination? Why LHR and not LGW? Why that aircraft?

What you need to know about the BA Charleston service

So, the service will be flown by a Boeing 787-8. Although flying on the Dreamliner is something to enjoy, you’ve got to wonder if a mid-size is really adequate for the big American tastes.

British Airways
The 787-8 is a ‘mid sized’ airliner… wouldn’t one of BA’s behemoths be more suited to the route?

The arrangement will be for 154 economy seats, 25 premium economy and just 35 business class seats. The business class isn’t bad on the Dreamliner, but don’t expect lie flat or reverse herringbone. It’s good old 2-2-2 in here.

British Airways plc
The 787’s business class is adequate, but not amazing

The route will run every Sunday and Thursday as follows:

  • BA220 London (LHR) to Charleston (CHS): Depart 17:20, arrive 21:20
  • BA221 Charleston (CHS) to London (LHR): Depart 22:50, arrive 11:50 (+1 day)

It’s over 4,000 miles and takes  nine hours westbound and eight hours eastwards.

The trip is in excess of 4,000 miles each way

This will be Charleston’s only international route, since Canadian carrier Porter Air ceased flights to Toronto in 2015. As a result, the airport will require a fair bit of upgrading in preparation for the launch of the route. Executives have estimated the required investment to be around $9m, which will include improvements to catering facilities, new ticketing counters and a duty free shop.

According to BA, special economy round trip rates of $1,088 will be available from April 4th to 10th and April 22nd to May 9th.  Regular fares will be from $1,319 for economy and from $3,585 for business.

Why have British Airways chosen to add London to Charleston?

As a premium, full service airline, the BA Charleston addition is surely aimed at the business travel sector. But what’s in Charleston for the business traveller? Not much is the honest answer.

Of course, there is the 787 factory, but this is simply a factory and not really a business destination. The lack of daily service could also be a bugbear for the business market, so perhaps that’s not who British Airways are aiming their service at.

The timings of the flights suggest perhaps it’s more of a leisure route than a business endeavour. A stag party could set off from LHR Thursday evening and be back in time for lunch on Monday. But if it’s a leisure flight, why is it leaving from the traditionally business orientated hub at Heathrow rather than the typically leisure hub of Gatwick?

Charleston has a fair bit to entertain the leisure traveler...
Charleston has a fair bit to entertain the leisure traveler…

Charleston does have a pretty big German expat population, as well as a number of well-heeled retirees from Europe (mainly Germany). Surely though it would have made more sense for IAG to stick Lufthansa on this route, rather than force transits through the already overcrowded terminal at LHR?

Then there’s the issue of award availability. Nonstop flights on BA are going to attract a levy of around $1500 on top of the 115k miles to go direct from London to Charleston. If you were to redeem American AAdvantage miles for the same route, you’d be looking at 57,500 miles each way and around $5.60 in taxes and charges. Plus, you’d get a lie flat bed.

Perhaps this is just a sign of the Brits pandering to Trump supporters in the South of the US? With Brexit looming and the future of European relations uncertain, maybe narrowing the gap across the pond is something of a political move?

There are certainly a lot of questions around this route, most of which will probably go unanswered (although we’d love the SF community to weigh in with their thoughts). But, for now, let’s rejoice that this unique route is launching and, for once, this isn’t news of yet another carrier failing.