British Airways Considers Dropping Gatwick To Preserve Heathrow

Reports have emerged that UK flag carrier British Airways may be planning to abandon its operations out of London Gatwick. The motivation for this prospect is reportedly to consolidate its operations at its Heathrow hub, ahead of the present coronavirus-induced slot waivers potentially coming to an end next year. The airline has already temporarily suspended its flights from London’s second airport multiple times since the pandemic began.

British Airways, Willie Walsh, Check-in Chaos
Some of BA’s Gatwick flights are seasonal, and rely on leisure traffic. Of course, this sector has been decimated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Shutting up shop?

According to reports in The Telegraph and Head For Points, British Airways is considering axing its Gatwick-based operations to preserve those at Heathrow. London’s second airport has been one of the pandemic’s most significant casualties in terms of lost passenger traffic, with the figure for the first week of June this year a staggering 92% lower than in 2019.

Ceasing its Gatwick operations would allow BA to consolidate flights through its Heathrow hub. This would be a good way of ensuring that it can fill all of its slots, should the present pandemic-induced waiver on slot usage come to an end.

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London Gatwick
Gatwick’s traffic is presently down by more than 90%. Photo: Andre Wadman via Wikimedia Commons

If not, the airline would run the risk of being penalized for not using its allocated slots. The waiver that is currently in place prevents this, as demand remains too low for airlines to operate full schedules and fill their allocated slots. BA is part of the International Airlines Group (IAG), whose CEO Luis Gallego reportedly stated last month that:

“Gatwick is an important decision that we need to take as a group. It’s true that we have the issue with the slots. [It] has some strategic value, but we need to be competitive there. This crisis is going to change the profile of the demand. So we are analyzing the different options.”

Where does BA fly from Gatwick?

While Heathrow is British Airways’ main hub, Gatwick plays an important role in its network by making the carrier’s flights more accessible to passengers in England’s southeast. It serves short and long-haul destinations from the airport, many of which have a leisure focus.

British Airways Boeing 777-236(ER) G-VIIB
BA will continue to operate long-haul flights from Gatwick. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

With this emphasis on leisure, some of the routes served are only done so on a seasonal basis. Examples of summer seasonal destinations include the Greek islands of Kos and Rhodes. Meanwhile, flights to Grenoble and Innsbruck are well suited to winter ski holidays. In any case, a British Airways spokesperson confirmed to Simple Flying that:

Until the end of October, most of our short-haul flights will continue to operate from Heathrow. This enables us to ensure a smooth, uninterrupted, and efficient operation across our business at a time when demand is yet to return and international travel restrictions remain in place. We’re still flying some of our long-haul flights from Gatwick.”

British Airways Airbus A320 Innsbruck
A British Airways Airbus A320 in Innsbruck, Austria. This service is one of several seasonal routes that BA operates from London Gatwick in the winter. Photo: Rob Hodgkins via Flickr

Multiple temporary suspensions already

BA’s Gatwick operations have been the subject of continued uncertainty since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the airport has been hit so hard that, on multiple occasions, the airline has temporarily suspended its flights from the airport. Following a suspension on March 31st last year, there were even fears that BA may not return.

However, it eventually resumed its operations there that July. Meanwhile, it initiated a second temporary suspension last November, after a ban on non-essential travel came back into place. Overall, it will be interesting to see what sort of a role Gatwick ends up playing in BA’s future network plans, particularly when the existing slot waivers run out.

What do you make of BA’s rumoured plans to axe its Gatwick services? Have you flown with the airline from London’s second airport in the past? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.