British Airways May Stop Flying To Gatwick Airport

Filed Under: British Airways

British Airways has in the past couple of days revealed plans to significantly downsize in the near future — the airline plans on laying off up to 12,000 employees, representing over a quarter of their workforce.

With this downsizing, the airline is allegedly considering a major change to the airports out of which they operate flights.

British Airways operates out of Gatwick & Heathrow

British Airways has significant operations out of both London Heathrow and London Gatwick:

  • London Heathrow has over 80% of British Airways’ operations; this is their premium hub, and is used for most business and premium leisure markets (Los Angeles, Shanghai, Rome, etc.)
  • London Gatwick has under 20% of British Airways’ operations; this is their leisure hub, and is used for many leisure markets (Tampa, Punta Cana, Alicante, etc.)

The challenge for British Airways (and many airlines in London) is that Heathrow Airport is heavily slot restricted and at capacity (at least before the current pandemic). While Gatwick is also slot restricted, the slots aren’t nearly as valuable or costly as at Heathrow.

From British Airways’ perspective:

  • Operations out of Gatwick have been necessary for growth
  • Using two hubs isn’t ideal for connecting passengers; for example, some long haul destinations are only served out of Gatwick, making it complicated to connect to Heathrow flights

British Airways operates out of Heathrow & Gatwick

British Airways could close Gatwick operations

While no final decision has been made, BBC is reporting that British Airways may end operations from London Gatwick Airport altogether. The airline has informed employees about the possibility of this in a memo, so we’ll see what they decide.

The reality is that the decision to close Gatwick operations may be inevitable:

  • Airport slots generally have a “use it or lose it” provision, so if airlines don’t operate flights using their slots they lose them; this has temporarily been lifted in light of the current pandemic, but is unlikely to last for all that long
  • Not only will British Airways have to eventually operate flights for all Heathrow slots, but the airline also recently picked up an additional 12 slots, so they’ll need to offer more flights than ever before; in fairness, they could maintain slots while reducing capacity by downgrading the planes on routes
  • British Airways plans to lay off over a quarter of employees, and most of those job losses will come from operational employees, suggesting that capacity over the next several years will be cut by a quarter or so
  • Realistically this means that British Airways is limited with how they can reduce operations while maintaining their slots long-term; if they’re going to reduce the number of flights by any significant number, pulling out of Gatwick is the obvious option
  • Presumably Gatwick has lower operating costs, but there are also synergies of operating out of a single hub, and it makes connections easier as well

Could British Airways consolidate operations at Heathrow?

The challenge with shutting down Gatwick

If British Airways plans to significantly reduce capacity, then shutting down Gatwick seems like the obvious option. This would allow them to streamline operations at one hub.

The problem is going to be that once demand recovers, it may be very hard for British Airways to once again grow at Gatwick. From lounge space to available slots to check-in desks, I question whether they’d be able to reclaim the space they left behind.

Or who knows, maybe they’re hoping that demand is reduced long enough that no airline would take their place there.

British Airways is considering leaving Gatwick Airport

Bottom line

Many airlines are looking to downside, though British Airways is in an especially complicated situation, given that they operate out of slot restricted airports. British Airways can’t simply reduce their Heathrow service significantly without giving up slots, so consolidating operations at one airport may be the only option.

How do you see this playing out for British Airways?

  1. If BA does leave Gatwick, it will be interesting to see how sustainable operating two terminals will be in the short to medium term. I suspect that the North Terminal could remain closed for some time even after the lockdown…

  2. It could also, at least partly, reflect a belief that business traffic will return much faster than leisure traffic.

    And their stranglehold over slots at LHR is the golden goose that makes BA so profitable. They will cling on to those at almost any cost until their last breath.

  3. Sounds like a gambit… BA are making a hollow threat to end operations at LGW permanently to be allowed to suspend operations at Heathrow longer without loosing their slots and possibly gain concessions and reduced charges from LGW to not do so.

  4. @Andrew
    Who are they threatening, LHR and LGW are both private companies, and completely separate from each other.

    And why would the govt care if BA either keeps or loses its slots at either LGW or LHR??

  5. Some speculation that VS could move all its operations to LGW and rebuild from their if they get through the other side, so if BA do vacate VS will be in a great negotiation position with LGW management to secure things like gates and clubhouse enlargement, also the use of kerbside drop off currently only used by Emirates.

  6. Gatwick has always been the poor relation looked down on as a leisure airport. For BA this makes sense in the current environment. BA has tried to be all things to all people and it would be better to focus on its core business and that means Heathrow. IAG can come up with other brands to address the low cost and leisure markets.
    Good job Willie only signed a letter of intent for all of those 737 MAX. In the shredder?

  7. I suspect the same for Air France which has a hub at Orly and perhaps airlines at Tokyo. Gimpo Airport is not far from Incheon, so it would make sense to consolidate everything at the latter

  8. Maybe they are also assuming they’ll pick up a bunch more LHR slots to make up for the lost spots in LGW when airlines either go bankrupt (eg Norwegian, Virgin, FlyBe) or loose them through non-use. To be honest as a traveler it would be so much easier to fly in/out of LHR vs. doing the LHR/LCY to LGW shuffle and getting stuck in traffic every single time.

  9. If BA leaves Gatwick who would fill the slots? If short term business is down 90% and intermediate term business will likely be down by half or more its not like there will be rush of players in there to fly without passengers. As is known, anyone that takes the slots after BA will be required to fly or they will lose them too.

  10. If BA doesnt see a business case to even maintain the frequency in the UK, i dont see how other airlines would be fighting for slots.

  11. BA was growing at LGW to fend off Norwegian, specifically in the long haul market. Norwegian has said its long haul operations won’t resume until 2021 (highly unlikely they ever will resume, full stop). This is a tough decision and clearly a cost cutting move if BA closes LGW altogether, but they may regret it when things recover. Kind of like UA closing JFK. BA would be abandoning the market South of the Thames altogether, and probably for good.

  12. Without BA, Norwegian, Thomas Cook and various longhaul carriers, Gatwick could come out of this crisis with less than 30m passengers a year, down from almost 47m in 2019. They will rebuild with LCCs – more easyJet, probably Jet2, maybe Wizzair, maybe more Ryanair.

    With the size of BAs planned Jon cut (12k out of 42k, -29%), BA would have enough space and slots at Heathrow to close London City as well.

  13. Hope this happens. Since BA flights from TPA and MCO only fly into LGW, then every flight going onto the continent or coming back involves the awful trip from LGW to LHR and the reverse.

  14. While the markets are slightly different, the main concept is not when you look at what UA did in JFK to consolidate to its hub in EWR. It’s a near impossible task to fight your way back into a slot-controlled airport once you’ve given up those resources and possibly regret it later.

  15. I suspect the longer term issue for re-upping BA secondary operations will be Gatwick vs Stansted – much of the Gatwick catchment has relatively similar journey times to either LHR or STN and by expanding at STN BA can tap in to a relatively wealthy local catchment and make it much easier for many in the north/east of the country who may be willing to trade up to something better than Ryanair

  16. BA will always prioritise “fortress Heathrow” over Gatwick but they will not leave. I wouldn’t be surprised if BA scales down their Gatwick operations for a while but straight up leaving Gatwick won’t happen. When Norwegian launched their low cost long haul flights from Gatwick they really gave BA a run for their money. If BA leaves then an even larger number of slots would be available which exposes BA’s flank to attack from other airlines. What I expect will happen is IAG will try and maintain the current rules for slots. The use it or lose it rules have been waived due to the lack of demand I’d expect every airline not just IAG will be arguing in favour of waiving the rules for the foreseeable future. Failing that IAG will scale down in Gatwick. Domestic flights from both Heathrow and Gatwick will increase in order to allow slot sitting. I’d also expect Qatar Airways to increase frequency to protect those slots for BA.

    The main issue I have with this is that it’s built and based on assumptions. The assumption that EU slot rules will return quickly. The assumption that demand will be gone for a very long time (day by day this is looking less like an assumption and more like a fact). The assumption that every other airline is in the same boat and therefore is unlikely to make a move on their abandoned Gatwick slots. It’s too much of a risk to hope that they could leave Gatwick and then make a come back in a few years time. Everyone agrees that Heathrow is full. Gatwick is their only option for growth in the future so they won’t abandon it.

  17. I’m sure some of these LGW slots could be ‘babysat’ by other IAG brands. LEVEL for a few of the bucket and spade routes and Vueling for the Europea ones.

  18. Shoeguy – The main airport for those “South of the Thames” is still Heathrow… How on Earth is this abandoning them?

    TomMacL – I would dispute that Gatwick and Stansted have similar catchment areas (Central London maybe – Outer London and the millions surrounding it are absolutely not similar distances).

    Stansted is also not convenient for those in the north of the country. Do you mean the Midlands? Driving from the north to Stansted is hardly easier than driving to Heathrow (though given they have their own airports, that isn’t really necessary anyway).

  19. This speculation appears to be based solely on the comment:
    “Our Gatwick and London City operations are now closed and there is no certainty as to when these services can return”.
    This is from a letter from the director of flight ops at BA to BALPA on the 28th.
    They list a whole bunch of reasons/excuses as to why they may (aka will) let go of pilots. This is one of them.
    This is simply BA vs unions. Make threats/imply reasoning and hope BALPA capitulate again like they did last autumn.
    Of course BA will remain at LGW – there’s not going to be a third runway at LHR, and when things pick up again, premium slots at LHR will be full as they always are.
    I’d be surprised if this wasn’t also a way to get LGW to lower fees, but through the media and not direct consultation as is the usual Señor Cruz way.

  20. I don’t see why the moratorium on ‘use it or lose it’ airport slots should end anytime soon. International air travel will be one of the last sectors to bounce back. Governments and the general public won’t be too happy to see airlines flying empty planes just to keep airport slots – the reasons the rules were suspended in the first place.

  21. What will happen if you have a flight booked out of Gatwick and they close it before you go?Will they switch your flight to Heathrow?

  22. First, @Lucky

    “Many airlines are looking to downside, though British Airways …” you mean downSIZE, I think.

    Second, I dont buy it. Traffic *will* recover, even if it takes time. When it does, if BA abandons Gatwick, getting back in will prove problematic – and that assumes their slots and infrastructure are not taken by other players (Jet2, EasyJet, Norwegian – take your pick.). LHR is a BA fortress, but growth there is tightly constrained as you point out. The mythical third runway will likely not hapapen in any of our lifetimes.

  23. But what everyone is forgetting that BA is a Spanish Consortium and there is nothing British about it at all apart from using the name British and minting it for IAG. But with Brexit, they are relocating to Madrid with there Head office etc. And it makes sense for them to close Gatwick and they also picked up 12 slots from Flybe and maybe axeing some routes they can manage it all at LHR.
    But Gatwick should open up to low cost Carriers, like Tui etc. And make 1 Terminal for all the flights and close the doors to BA for good. Let smaller Airlines make a base in LGW instead.

  24. We have flights booked with BA in December from Gatwick, what will happen if they do indeed close Gatwick before our flight? Will they switch us over to Heathrow or are we better off changing our flights now to leave from Heathrow?

  25. Once demand starts to pick back up, this could help BA at airports like TPA, where they aren’t very competitive for business travelers who want to connect to other European destinations, since (pre-virus) Tampa had Lufthansa to Frankfurt and (seasonal) Delta to Amsterdam, both offering far superior connections.

  26. @Janine, if they move your flight you’ll be switched to the Heathrow route. This is what they did a few years ago when some Caribbean routes were moved to Heathrow for a few months.

  27. I have a BA flight to Orlando in January, if they were to close gatwick there is no other direct route there with BA in any other airport?! Would they move some services or would our flight be lost for good? We have a whole holiday booked with them and they will not tell us anything as its classed as to far away.

  28. BA flights from Gatwick that are not cancelled by BA will show as LGW Terminal 5 in the booking, indicating that the flight was originally due to depart LGW and is now scheduled to depart from LHR (unless it is cancelled at a later date!).

  29. Mine is an immediate holiday issue with BA and their flights from Gatwick, rather than BA’s longer term future there. Like Janine and Cerys, we have a holiday and Gatwick flights booked through BA. We go late October and return early November. We live south of Gatwick, just 20 to 25 minutes away, so for us the availability of flights from Gatwick is always a key factor when booking. On a good day the drive to Heathrow averages 2¼ hours – but with a flight to catch we have to allow at least 4 hours in case of a long holdup on the M25, a common occurrence. We will not, therefore, accept willingly alternative flights from Heathrow, unlikely though that possibility seems to be right now.

    All BA will tell me is that despite the indefinite closure of their Gatwick operations our flights are still scheduled to depart on schedule. They wouldn’t give me any indication of how much notice we might be given if the flights are cancelled – but said it could be as little as 2 hours before the scheduled departure time.

    What sort of customer service is this ? Under present circumstances BA will decide days if not weeks in advance if a Gatwick flight is to be cancelled – or switched to Heathrow – so why will they not be honest with their customers ?

    BA have made one important, recent concession: because of Covid they have changed the due date for full payment for holidays/flights to just 3 weeks before the scheduled departure date. The person at BA I spoke to confirmed this but would not email me confirmation or have the payment due date changed in my “Manage my Bookings” page. If I had doubts about the validity of this change then it was suggested I take screen shot of the relevant paragraph that I had found on BA’s website (buried under “FAQs”).

  30. Not sure what to read into this, but BA are now selling Gatwick tourist route flights from 9/1.. TPA-LGW for example at around $700 in economy..

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