The COVID-19 Impact On The World’s Most Valuable Route

In 2019 the route between London Heathrow and New York’s JFK Airport was listed as the most valuable in the world, worth $1,159,126,794 to British Airways alone. This was in no small part due to the emphasis on premium cabins used by British Airways on its flagship route.

London Heathrow, New York JFK, COVID-19
In 2019 Heathrow to JFK was the world’s most valuable route. Photo: London Heathrow Airport

Much has changed between London Heathrow and New York’s JFK over the past two decades. In 2003 British Airways retired Concorde, ending the age of supersonic travel. More recently, the past 15 months have been even more turbulent for the route. Travel is effectively banned for most in one direction, meaning that the route only operates as a shell of its former self.

Heathrow to JFK

The route between Heathrow and New York’s JFK has suffered significantly as a result of COVID-19. Using flight schedule data, Simple Flying decided to see just how bad things got. For this article, all figures are for flights one way from Heathrow to JFK. According to aviation data experts Cirium, at its height in 2019, 619 flights were operated from London by four carriers, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines. Every month in 2020 was worse than its corresponding month in 2019.

London Heathrow, New York JFK, COVID-19
Like most routes of the world, the route has suffered significantly in the past 15 months. Data: Cirium (click to enlarge)

The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic began to be seriously felt in March when the number of scheduled flights dropped to 484. In April, things got even worse, with flights dropping to 66 each way, before the absolute lowest point in May with just 36 flights.

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What about individual airlines?

Of these 36 flights operating from London in May, five were operated by Virgin Atlantic, with the remaining 31 operated by British Airways. Delta Air Lines didn’t fly the route from April to August, while American Airlines didn’t fly during April or May. Virgin didn’t fly the route at all during June.

London Heathrow, New York JFK, COVID-19
Airlines are ready for when travel between the two countries takes off again. Data: Cirium (click to enlarge)

The data above shows an interesting trend. Since August, US airlines have been operating flights at a reasonably steady level. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic upped their schedule in the second half of 2020. Each airline has been performing approximately one flight a day for most of 2021 so far.

In the graph above, the orange area represents the future airline schedules. As you can see, most of the airlines have scheduled a strong recovery. This is unlikely to happen until governments on both sides of the Atlantic agree to re-enable transatlantic travel.

This is something that significant airlines on both sides of the Atlantic campaigned for on Monday. Until change has been made, capacities will continue to be low as many can’t fly direct from the UK to the US, and travelers in the other direction face a 10-day quarantine.

JetBlue, London Heathrow, Flight Sales
JetBlue secured London Heathrow slots earlier this year. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

Despite the pandemic, the green shoots ‘blue shoots’ of new growth can be seen sprouting from August onwards. US hybrid carrier JetBlue is hoping to disrupt the transatlantic market later this year by launching direct flights between JFK and Heathrow.

When do you think we’ll see the recovery of the Heathrow-JFK route? Let us know what you think and why in the comments below!

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