An Odd Year: British Airways’ Top Routes In 2021

British Airways was the world’s 18th largest airline by flights in 2019, the last normal year. It has fallen to 49th in 2021, positioning it in-between Indonesia’s Citilink and Norway’s Widerøe. This provides a reminder – if it is needed – that the current year is extraordinary and overthinking changes should be avoided. Things absolutely will return to normal in time.

British Airways, Airbus A380, Future
BA will deploy the A380 to Dubai, Frankfurt, Los Angeles, Madrid, and Miami before the year ends. Photo: Airbus.

British Airways in 2021

BA has 109,576 two-way flights this year, according to the latest data from experts Cirium. That is 30% of what it had two years ago, vividly demonstrating how much there is still to recover. To put it into context, American – a BA joint-venture partner – is now at 90% of the flights it had in 2019.

In Europe, BA is behind Iberia (59%), KLM (58%), Air France (57%), Lufthansa (40%), and Virgin Atlantic (36%), analyzing Cirium data shows. The reopening of the US to Europeans on November 8th will help BA’s recovery in particular, given how dominant it is across the North Atlantic and how profitable the market ordinarily is for the carrier.

It is not especially fair to examine the whole year like this, as earlier months will be far more negatively impacted than more recent periods. Indeed, in November, BA is at 55% of the flights it had in November 2019, trailing KLM (77%), Iberia (76%), Air France and Lufthansa (both at 67%), and Virgin (63%).

BA B787-9
Thirty-two destinations were scheduled to see the B787-9 this year, including a small number on a one-off basis. Photo: British Airways.

BA is now (almost) entirely about Heathrow

Heathrow has 86% of BA’s flights this year, followed by London City (10%; BA CityFlyer), and Gatwick (2%). Heathrow’s domination has risen by a massive 19 percentage points versus 2019, while Gatwick has reduced by 10.

In April 2020, BA ceased short-haul flying from Gatwick, and you couldn’t blame them. Nine in ten routes had competition, most especially with easyJet at its main base. While it is far from certain, a new, lower-cost unit will probably be created to operate from Gatwick, thereby keeping the airport within the Group, just with a more appropriate platform for the market.

BA still serves long-haul destinations from Gatwick, which will include Doha from December 9th. Meanwhile, only Glasgow and Manchester (the latter is due to resume) will be operated on a short-haul basis.

British Airways Airbus A320neo Getty
The A320neo is BA’s third most-used aircraft by flights this year, behind the A320ceo (no surprise!) and A319. Photo: Getty Images.

BA’s top-15 routes this year

Focusing on London, BA has 219 destinations from the city this year: 172 from Heathrow (Orlando starts on November 15th), 29 from London City (Salzburg begins on December 10th), and 18 from Gatwick.

The top-15 list, measured by flights, is led by three domestic routes, with Aberdeen jumping up the ranks from 14th in 2019 to third in 2021 largely because of cuts elsewhere. Berlin, Munich, CDG, and Rome Fiumicino fell out of the top-15, replaced by Belfast City, Athens, Jersey, and Larnaca, key leisure and domestic places.

  1. Heathrow to Edinburgh
  2. Heathrow to Glasgow
  3. Heathrow to Aberdeen
  4. Heathrow to Manchester
  5. Heathrow to JFK
  6. Heathrow to Nice
  7. Heathrow to Belfast City
  8. Heathrow to Athens
  9. Heathrow to Geneva
  10. Heathrow to Jersey
  11. Heathrow to Barcelona
  12. Heathrow to Amsterdam
  13. Heathrow to Larnaca
  14. London City to Edinburgh
  15. Heathrow to Dublin
BA additions at Heathrow
BA has added these destinations from Heathrow this year. Of course, the vast majority were previously from Gatwick. Some long-haul routes destinations have shifted back to Gatwick, while others remain served from both airports. Image: GCMap.

Heathrow welcomed 38 ‘new’ BA destinations at some point this year versus 2019, and it wasn’t wholly because of cutting short-haul at Gatwick. The additions are shown in the map above, with – as you’d expect – an enormous emphasis on sun routes.