Interesting: LOT Polish Will Operate London To Vilnius Flights For The Lithuanian Government

Filed Under: LOT

Lithuania is a small European country located in the Baltic region. It has a total population of around 2.8 million.

Its capital, Vilnius, has an international airport handling 3.8 million passengers each year, which is not even in the top 100 airports in Europe by passenger numbers.

Nonetheless, it is served by some full service airlines like Turkish, Lufthansa, and Aeroflot, and is a hub for Air Baltic, as well as ultra low cost carriers Ryanair and Wizz.

I visited Vilnius last year for a long weekend — it definitely feels smaller than neighboring Tallinn in Estonia and wasn’t quite as picturesque as Riga in Latvia, but was a very charming city that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Lithuania does not have a flag carrier — Air Baltic is Latvian, and Nordica is Estonian.

The only non stop flights to London from Vilnius are with Ryanair (to Stansted and Luton) and Wizz (to Luton). British Airways and easyJet do not fly to Lithuania at all.

Why does all this matter?

Because the Lithuanian Government wants direct regular flights to London on a full service/legacy carrier. The problem is there is no Lithuanian airline to operate them.

So they put this out to a public tender as an EU Public Service Obligation, for a foreign airline to provide this air link.

LOT Polish has been chosen by the Lithuanian government to operate the service and will commence non stop flights from London City airport to Vilnius airport next year. They will be using Embraer E190 aircraft to operate double daily flights on weekdays and daily flights on weekends from May 1, 2019.

The exact flight schedules have not yet been finalised.

London City airport cannot handle aircraft larger than an Airbus A318 or A220, because of its short runway, so Embraer aircraft are a common sight there.

When I first heard this I thought ‘but LOT doesn’t even fly to London City.’

Right now they don’t, but then I remembered they are commencing flights to Warsaw and Budapest from London City from early next year, so this makes sense for LOT to apply for the tender, as they will already have the infrastructure at London City and Vilnius (as they already fly from Warsaw to Vilnius).

LOT also operates flights from London Heathrow to Warsaw, but for European business travel, London City is a far more convenient airport to use.

LOT has said of being awarded the Public Service Obligation contract:

For passengers traveling between Lithuania and Great Britain, the new connection is a perfect alternative to connections to Luton and Stansted airports, which are more distant. Moreover, East London is a place where many Lithuanians live, which is why the launch of the new connection is expected to attract a lot of interest and contribute to a strengthening of relations between Lithuania and Great Britain.

The Head of Lithuanian Airports has added:

Both Lithuania and the UK`s business community have been waiting for so long for the flights that will even cut geographical barrier and significantly shorten travel time between Vilnius and London. Comfortable flights at the appropriate time will definitely increase the flow of business travellers coming to Lithuania.

The Public Service Obligation in Europe is not dissimilar to the Essential Air Service grants in the US.

Now if it sounds familiar to you for LOT to be operating flights that are neither fifth freedom nor to or from Poland, this is not the first time they have stepped in to provide services for a country that does not have a flag carrier.

Hungary also does not have a flag carrier, so LOT operates flights from its capital, Budapest, to both New York and Chicago using Boeing 787s.

LOT Polish 787 business class

Bottom line

I’m interested to know what the commercial arrangement is between LOT and the Lithuanian Department of Transport. Is LOT paid a certain amount per flight to operate the route, or is it per seat sold?

Can the route be profitable for LOT to operate even if the planes are half empty?

I wonder if British Airways tendered for the route, as they already use Embraer aircraft at London City, and currently fly to Tallinn, though not Riga (or Lithuania at all).

It will be interesting to see how the LOT flights are priced given they are being subsidised. London City is my favourite of London’s five airports, and Vilnius is a great destination, so would make for a fun weekend away again if the fares are reasonable.

I’ll also be interested to see if they station the aircraft at London City, or Vilnius, or even Warsaw (where it might operate a WAW-VNO-LCY-VNO-WAW type rotation).

  1. LO will also start serving LCY from BUD starting next year, so it seems like they have quite the sizable operation planned for LCY.

  2. Riga is in Latvia, Vilnius is in Lithuania and used to be one of major Polish cities for ~500 years. LOT is also rumoured to fly to LCY from Bucharest, Romania. Btw, LOT Polish is currently the fastest growing airline in Europe by the number of routes opened.

  3. Why are ‘national Carriers’ mentioned. The concept is long dead and is no longer relevant in this day and age.

  4. @Brian

    Because of/in spite of Brexit.

    Why on Gods Green Earth would BA not be able to bid a route to London?

    If it end up with a hard Brexit, including the air agreements, then BA would be the only network carrier able to bid. Since Lithuania does not have any carriers and any other carrier would probably need a 5 freedom right from the British government.

    The only casualty in case of a hard Brexit (including air deals) would be IAG, not BA. IAG as British company would not be able to own EU airlines like Iberia, Vueling and that Irish one. Move HQ to Switzerland (and maybe change ownership structure a bit) and get an exemption from the British government for foreign ownership of BA and you are golden.

    This of course assumes that the British leave the air agreements, which is not the same as the EU. Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are all members of the European air agreements without being members of the EU.

  5. I have a really good friend that flies for LOT and met with him for dinner last week. We were talking shop and I was saying how great LO seems to be doing with the expansion and launching longhaul flights ex BUD etc. His take was very different though. He said the general consensus amongst LO employees is that the company is expanding too rapidly and not profitably (he said ‘we are the eastern europe Norwegian’). He was saying that the loads on the BUD-US routes are dire and yet there was talk of also launching OTP (Romiania) – USA routes.

    The BUD-USA routes have actually been operated by a wet leasted 767 (from Euroatlantic) and A330 (from Air Europa) for the past few months with LO only recently operating them again with their own metal. The ex BUD flights were initially crewed with majority WAW based cabin crew and one or two hungarian based crew but that has now flipped – the two senior crew are LO WAW crew and the remainder hungarians.

    I can see the appeal for LO operating for other carriers. Their costs for a ‘full service’ airline are pretty low – polish based staff. In places like JFK the crew stays at a La Quinta Inn in Long Island instead of a larger chain hotel in Manhattan like the airline I work for. Other cities are pretty similar.

    They do some pretty dreamy trips in the european winter though! Their long haul scheduled work reduces a little so they use the aircraft instead on holiday charters to places in Thailand, Vietnam, Bali. Sometimes these flights are only once every two weeks and instead of deadheading the crew back on another carrier or via another city LO leaves them out there for a two week ‘work’ vacation!

  6. @James You mention that London has five airports but isn’t it supposedly six? Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead, Luton, City and “London Southend”?

  7. @Elijah

    Apart from City & Heathrow, none of the airports using London as part of their name are in London. Luton is in Bedfordshire, Stansted in Cambridgeshire, Southend is in Essex and Gatwick is in Sussex.

  8. The BUD-JFK was full whenever i was on board (however non-stop return tickets even one week before travel usually costs around 450USD exBUD). They only use the wetleased 767 (A330 in summer) because of the 787 engine problems. They have grounded 1-2 of them at a time, but from jan or feb they will have the 787 again in the BUD base. Their brand in Hungary is not that strong yet, so they kept the working LO 787s in WAW, and used the wetleased planes in BUD.
    There were rumors of a 2nd LO 787 in BUD, which would make JFK a daily flight, Chicago to 3 times a week and 2 times LAX, but as i heard it was postponed to 2020 summer schedule.

    The main problem with the BUD longhaul flights is that 98% is point to point travel. There are no connections allowed to other US cities, and on the other end, from BUD star alliance flies to IST (TK), VIE (OS), MUC,FRA (LH), LIS (TP), BRU (SN), ZRH (LX), ATH (A3).
    As far as I know from these they only allow connections to/from IST, VIE, ATH. This is about 0-5 passengers each flight.
    Air Canada and American makes it better, they have a very wide option of connections for their BUD flights.
    I would far prefer if Delta could launch a JFK-BUD flight.

  9. I heard rumors of LO opening their own lounge at LCY which now makes perfect sense with the number of destinations served increasing.

  10. @james

    “According to Masiulis, an aid mechanism will be applied to the planned flight for the first time in Europe.

    “We’ll have the maximum amount set. For example, if the planes fly empty, the maximum amount will be paid. The more the planes are filled, the less we’ll have to compensate. If they are full, we won’t have to pay anything,” Masiulis said.

    The Economy Ministry says the maximum amount won’t exceed 3 mln euros a year.”

  11. In some ways, LOT really should dominate — Poland is the 6th largest country in the EU by population, and by far the largest in eastern Europe. So WAW should be the hub of eastern Europe, and I think that’s what they’re trying to do. Estonian’s flag carrier (Nordica) is actually operated by LOT — in fact all their flight numbers are LO except the flights from TLL to Russia due to an existing bilateral agreement for Estonia-Russia flights.

    However, I booked a TLL-ARN flight for 33 EUR and CPH-TLL was 75 EUR, on Nordica operated by LOT. Sure that’s in economy, but that’s pretty cheap any way you look at it.

    I just hope LOT doesn’t expand too fast, as they really could be a big player in Europe and especially eastern Europe, if they manage their expansion well.

    Any bets on next US destination for LOT? Maybe WAW-IAD since it’s a *A hub and they don’t serve it yet?

  12. – LOT serves Hungary and Lithuania
    – Adria serves Albania and Kosovo
    – EVA Air serves some of the European longhaul for Thai (and other 5th freedom flights by Singapore, Air China, Turkish, Ethiopian, South African)

    Star Alliance seems to be trustworthy enough for a number of governments.

  13. This joint venture is rather apropos in a way, because Poland and Lithuania were once together as a single nation hundreds of years ago. Nice to see Vilnius gain a strong connection to the UK.

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