British Airways May Expand Business-Only U.S. Flights
British Airways Plc may expand its all-business-class service to the U.S. from London City Airport as demand for premium travel shows signs of a recovery, Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh said. New destinations including Boston and Washington are under study after seat occupancy levels on BA’s flights between City and New York reached 75 percent, Walsh said in an interview late yesterday after a press reception in London. “City-New York is performing really well and bookings are very encouraging,” the CEO said. “We’re considering more East Coast routes, but we need to be able to look at at least four months of operations before reaching a decision.” BA is gearing up to tap a revival in business trips across the North Atlantic, the world’s biggest market for corporate travel and one where it’s already the No. 1 operator. Walsh has been reporting gains in premium long-haul traffic since November and yesterday unveiled a 100 million-pound ($157 million) makeover of first-class seats where fares can top $10,000. Flights from London City to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport started on Sept. 29 using Airbus SAS A318 jets which must refuel in Ireland because the U.K. terminal’s 4,948-foot runway (1508 meters) is too short for takeoffs with a load sufficient to complete a trans-Atlantic flight. Walsh said in the interview that the airline looked at adding flights from City to Dubai that would have refueled in mainland Europe before deciding against the plan. ‘Sign of Confidence’ The revamp of first class is “a sign of the confidence BA has in long-haul premium travel recovering,” the CEO said. The redesign, which debuted last night on a Boeing 777 flight to Chicago, is the first in almost 10 years for a carrier that pioneered flat-bed berths in 1996. It features seats that are 60 percent wider at the shoulder, a personal wardrobe, leather-bound writing tables that convert into dining surfaces, a 15-inch entertainment screen, noise-cancelling headsets and the first electronic blinds on a commercial airliner. BA’s Paris-based business-only subsidiary OpenSkies is also expanding, adding a service to Washington from May 3 after three months of encouraging figures on its existing route to New York, the company said on Feb. 9. Chief Dale Moss said he’s looking at other routes and the unit’s Web site listed as options Paris to Boston and Chicago and Brussels, Madrid and Milan to New York. Among other new operations, a service to Las Vegas that began in October is “one of the most successful new routes we’ve ever launched,” Walsh said. No Union Deal The CEO said he hasn’t reached an agreement with Unite, the union representing 12,000 flight attendants who are threatening to strike over reduced staffing levels and new work rosters. He said he won’t sign any deal unless it provides lasting savings without hampering his eventual successor. British Airways is seeking to shave as much as 127 million pounds ($198 million) from its crew costs, according to Unite. Balloting on strike action will finish Feb. 22 after a U.K. judge voided an earlier vote in favor of a walkout. Regarding BA’s bid for a three-way alliance with AMR Corp.’s American Airlines and Spain’s Iberia Lineas Aereas de Espana SA for flights across the Atlantic, Walsh said he remains confident of winning clearance from antitrust regulators. “It’s only a matter of time before we get approval,” the executive said. Walsh said British Airways is making “good progress” in merger discussions with Iberia. The carriers said in November that they would seek to sign an agreement in the first quarter.
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