June 29, 2012 Leave a comment
BA has returned to Leeds-Bradford airport (LBA) after abandoning most regional airports in the late 90s with the advent of low cost airlines. With this story there are some over hyped soundbites from press conferences being battered around in the local and national media which are then reported as “news”.
Don’t get me wrong, I dont think BA coming to LBA is a bad thing, I just think it has to have a sense of perspective and analysis which seems to be absent from most of what I’ve read. Claims like how Yorkshire was cut off from the world prior to this announcement and dubious estimations of how this service will benefit the region since we’ll now have a quick route to the
capital West London. We’re told fares will start from £42 but the region already has excellent train links. Is this really the mode of transport people will use to go down to London? I doubt it. Unless you live north of Yeadon and need to get to the West side of the M25, you’re better off getting on an East Coast (Or the excellent Grand Central) train and arriving in under 2 hours, centre to centre.
Flights to London from LBA have been attempted before by FlyBe . However the difference has been that whereas FlyBe has been a point-to-point journey just to Gatwick, BA will offer connections to their worldwide network via Heathrow’s Terminal 5. This means you’ll just check in once at LBA and your luggage will be through-checked to your final destination. This has to be a great thing right?
It is, but its not necessarily new. KLM has been doing this for years, they provide excellent regional connections and via their terminal at Schiphol, they offer connections to their worldwide network. In other words, LBA’s connections to the world were already in place prior to BA.
BA has a strong brand, although this has diminished over the years in the regions with its absence (known as London Airways due to their skeleton presence in regional airports) and also especially with the media’s addiction for bad travel related news (Ash clouds, bad weather, new terminal openings..). Fares and pricing to worldwide destinations from LBA on BA will be important for leisure and business travel and could be the deciding factor of whether this route is successful. LBA is currently well served to most important European destinations adequately via no frills airlines, so the long haul destinations will have to be pitched right to penetrate the market. Having a look at sample economy fares in Feb 2013 are around £500 to New York, £900 to Johannesburg and £1300 to Sydney, for *both* KLM & BA. So, very similar.
One downside for LBA in this whole discussion is its proximity to Manchester Airport (MAN). MAN has a much wider range of airlines departing from its base and significantly, it attracts a lot of the American, Middle Eastern & Asian airlines. On the Sydney route, for example you would pay under £1,000 to fly with young but thriving Etihad whereas there are some real savings to be made to Johannesburg where fares are under £600 for Qatar Airways – one of the world’s 5 star airlines and one whose economy class has been rated the best in the world. Travelling east with one of the middle eastern airlines also breaks up your journey evenly between two medium haul flights, rather than a short hop & a long haul which is what you get with BA.
LBA itself has borne the brunt of bad news since its privatisation, ranging from sky-high taxi fares, minimum £2 charge to drop off/pick up and introducing charges to use the trolleys (one wonders what the airport tax element of the ticket is used for). Walking across the tarmac in the rain to the plane on departure and (due to its location, high winds are frequent) turbulent landings on arrival all add up to not a very pleasant travel experience.
In summary, BA will have to make their fares competitive, coupled with a big marketing push to remind people they’re not just Heathrow-centric and reinforce the brand. LBA have their part to do, to listen to their passengers and plough some investment into improving the airport (note: I don’t mean more duty free and perfume shops).
Otherwise in 18 months time, we’ll have another story bemoaning the loss of our air link to the capital.