Long-haul has the most revenue for British Airways, during the pandemic. That’s even though most expect short /medium-haul to recover faster! Let’s see why this is.
Airlines and aviation groups like IATA, don’t expect aviation to make a full recovery until 2023. But expectations for short and medium haul are much more optimistic. Even if we don’t see a recovery all the way up to 2019 levels, many airlines thing we will get close to it, but the end of summer. In some parts of the world, like Asia, individual airlines are actually already there. But for now, British Airways’ data shows that long-haul brings in more money. However, the company’s conditions, and position are a big part of why.
Like many countries in the European continent, Britain is small enough for all domestic flying to be short-haul only. This is unlike places like the US, Russia or China. As we have seen, some airlines there have been able to operate substantial domestic networks, during most of the pandemic. Without any border restrictions, most of this travel could continue, barring any lockdown conditions. We saw how Mesa Airlines in the US, Pobeda in Russia and Spring in China did just that.
Factors Helping British Airways’ Long-Haul Operations
British Airways has a substantial long-haul fleet. They also have plenty of single-aisle jets, for short and medium-haul. However the amount of lockdowns and restrictions on non-essential travel, meant that flights to/from Europe’s destinations, suffered much more. The emergence of new Covid-19 variants, both in Britain and elsewhere, didn’t help at all. Even ground freight came to a halt around the holidays, as we saw.
Of course the same travel restrictions also limited British Airways’ long-haul travel. But proportionately, their impact hit short/medium-haul more. However there are some types of long-haul travel that could still go on. The airline did several repatriation flights, from different parts of the world. But the most decisive factor is probably cargo.
We have seen how the drop in cargo capacity raised freight prices. This brought extra revenue for cargo companies. But this was only the beginning. The drop in capacity also led to a drop in fuel prices. Put together, this meant that it became practical for British Airways and other airlines to perform long-haul, freight-only flights. However, note here that ‘practical’ may not necessarily mean ‘profitable’. ‘Revenue’ doesn’t mean ‘earnings’, either.
But this situation can change very quickly. Like others, British Airways will likely continue as many long-haul flights as it can practically do. But as we have seen, the short and medium-haul situation can transform overnight, when the rules change. We saw this earlier in the week, when the British government announced a planned ease to travel restrictions from mid-May. The biggest effect will come from the beginning of June. Many airlines immediately saw the effect of the announcement, in their reservations.
British Airways was one of these airlines. Like others, they saw a multi-fold increase in bookings, in the ours following the announcement. Some of this rise for British Airways and others actually involved long-haul destinations. But the bulk of it was to popular summer destinations in southern Europe and elsewhere in the Mediterranean.
British Airways has also been using VeriFly, so far primarily for long-haul flights, initially from the US. Such digital travel health apps (or ‘health passports’) could well play a big role in the industry’s revival over the next few months.