UK Policies Made Heathrow A Dysfunctional Connecting Hub

In the last year and a half, American Airlines hasn’t utilized Heathrow International Airport as a connective hub like it used to before the COVID-19 pandemic. The airline’s Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), Vasu Raja, said that the travel restrictions imposed by the UK have made Heathrow a dysfunctional connecting hub. Nevertheless, he expects that will change soon.

American Airlines B777-200
American Airlines has not been able to use London Heathrow as the connective hub it used to have before the pandemic. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Heathrow’s importance

American Airlines has a strong partnership with oneworld ally, British Airways. Historically, American has had a strong presence at Heathrow thanks to this alliance.

According to Vasu Raja, American Airlines’ largest international connecting complex is actually London Heathrow. “We have a massive presence there. We have more international customers over there than we do in Philadelphia, Miami, or even Dallas Fort Worth,” Raja said in an exclusive webinar interview with Simple Flying. Prior to the pandemic, American Airlines operated approximately 20 to 23 flights a day in Heathrow.

In September 2019, American Airlines operated 630 monthly flights to London Heathrow from nine US airports. These were Charlotte, Dallas Fort Worth, New York JFK, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago O’Hare, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Raleigh/Durham.

Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic severely hampered American Airlines’ presence in Heathrow. Between the US travel restrictions to European travelers and the UK’s policies, it became complicated to operate through London.

American B787
In September, American Airlines offered 52% fewer flights to London Heathrow than in 2019. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

How has American Airlines substituted Heathrow in the pandemic?

Vasu Raja said,

“Heathrow as a connecting point was challenged mightily through the pandemic, through no fault of anyone, but just given all the various restrictions on the UK; it just couldn’t function as the same connecting point that many airports on the continent could.”

To tackle this issue, American Airlines heavily relied on its new partnership with Qatar Airways. Signed on February 25, 2020, the American Airlines-Qatar Airways codeshare agreement has become increasingly important to the US carrier. Raja said,

“At a time when many of our competitors were using continental European hubs to connect people into Africa or the Indian subcontinent, we were using Doha.”

Currently, Qatar Airways flies to 12 US airports. These are Atlanta, Boston, Dallas Fort Worth, Washington Dulles, Houston International, New York’s JFK, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago O’Hare, Philadelphia, Seattle, and San Francisco. Qatar operated 1,038 monthly flights to the US in September 2021.

Qatar Airways A350
Qatar Airways has become one of American Airlines’ main codeshare partners. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

The light at the end of the tunnel

Nevertheless, there seems to be a glimpse of hope for American Airlines. Recently, the US government announced the easing of travel restrictions.

Vasu Raja said that nobody was more excited than American Airlines about the news; it meant it could bring back so much of its long-haul network built around Heathrow. American Airlines’ CRO said the announcement was a “big shot to the arm.” He added,

“We think that with the US announcement, (the current situation at Heathrow) could turn itself around quite quickly. In just a matter of months, if indeed international demand follows the trend that we’ve seen in the short-haul space, things could come pretty fast and pretty impressively.”

Do you believe Heathrow has been a dysfunctional connecting hub throughout the pandemic? Let us know in the comments below.