by Oliver Smith, The Daily Telegraph, December 22, 2017
The era of low-cost, long-haul flying is upon us – and new figures have revealed just how much pressure aviation upstarts such as Norwegian are putting on traditional carriers like British Airways.
Telegraph Travel asked OAG, the air travel analysts, to compare this winter’s transatlantic capacity with 2016/17. In terms of total seats on offer, British Airways remains the biggest player for flights between Europe and North America – but the no-frills rivals are closing fast.
There are 1.87m seats available for BA’s transatlantic services this winter, a small increase of 1.1 percent. Norwegian, on the other hand, has raised its transatlantic capacity by 111 per cent, from just over 400,000 to almost 860,000, while WOW Air, the Icelandic low-cost airline, has grown by 31.1 per cent.
Other legacy carriers are also treading water. Delta, United and Lufthansa, the second, third and fourth biggest transatlantic airlines, have increased capacity by just 3.2, 2.6 and 2.9 percent, respectively. Virgin Atlantic, meanwhile, has cut the number of seats on offer, from around 803,000 to less than 778,000, a drop of 3.2 percent.
A few premium airlines are bucking the trend. Iberia, Aeroflot and LOT Polish Airlines all increased capacity by more than a quarter this winter. Emirates added almost 50,000 transatlantic seats, up 58 per cent on last year, driven largely by the introduction of flights from Italy and Greece to North America.
How is BA fighting back?
BA, and other legacy carriers, have sought to combat the rise of low-cost, long-haul service by cutting some of their frills in an effort to keep prices low – a policy that hasn’t gone down well with all travellers.
Also reinventing its offering is American Airlines, which took the step of removing first class from many of its transatlantic services this year.
Another option for taking the fight to the no-frills airlines? Launching your own low-cost airline. That is exactly what BA’s parent company, IAG, did with Level, which now flies from Spain to a clutch of North American destinations.
Air France, meanwhile, launched Joon. It doesn’t yet fly to North America, preferring services to Brazil and the Seychelles instead.
BA’s empty seats
These figures reflect capacity – not necessarily how many people actually fly. And OAG was able to calculate just how many empty seats IAG has to contend with each year.
On transatlantic services, it has a load factor of 82.5 per cent. That equates to 2.4 million empty seats on its services between Europe and North America. Across its global network, the load factor is 82.9 per cent. That’s an incredible 24.4 million wasted seats.
Britain is still the leader for transatlantic travel
OAG’s data shows that the UK remains, by some margin, the biggest market for flights to North America, with a total capacity of more than 5.2 million for winter 2017/18 – up from 5.05m, and a total of 161 separate routes. The “special relationship” remains strong, in air travel terms at least.
Germany lags behind on 2.6m seats and 88 routes, down from 2.4m seats and 102 routes last winter, in part due to the collapse of Air Berlin. France (1.8m/75) and the Netherlands (1.3m/51) come next.
The fastest growing market, by a distance, is Greece, which has seen transatlantic capacity rise from a paltry 4,956 to a respectable 53,709, thanks to the expansion of Emirates at Athens International Airport. The Middle Eastern carrier now flies to 12 US cities, as well as Toronto, from the Greek capital (though these are largely summer services).
There’s has been big growth in Spain, largely due to the launch of Level by BA’s parent company IAG, as well as Ireland, driven by Norwegian and Aer Lingus.
The A380 is falling from favour
We’ve written about the travails of the world’s biggest passenger plane before. Orders for the Airbus A380 have completely dried up and Singapore Airlines recently placed one of its superjumbos in storage after less than a decade in the sky. Furthermore, Amedeo, an Irish aircraft leasing company, last month revealed plans to create its own airline because it can’t find anyone to borrow its A380s.
OAG’s research shows that the A380 is becoming a less common sight on transatlantic services. It is scheduled to make 1,613 departures this winter – down 14.7 per cent from 1,891.
Among the aircraft filling the void is the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Departures for 2017/18 that use the model are expected to total 8,912 – up 39.7 per cent.