'Disappointment' at decision by BA to reduce Belfast flights to Heathrow
British Airways is set to cut its weekday flights on the crucial business Belfast to Heathrow route by one-third from the end of October, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
The airline said the decision was part of its winter scheduling and would be reviewed ahead of the start of next year’s summer period.
But a group representing the Northern Ireland business community said it will be “disappointed” at the decision to cut weekday connections to the London hub and back from six to four.
Sister airline Aer Lingus is expected to continue its three daily flights on the same route.
British Airways has been operating at George Best Belfast City Airport since buying BMI five years ago.
It closed down previous operations in Belfast International Airport in 2001.
British Airways is owned by IAG, led by chief executive Willie Walsh and the parent company of Aer Lingus.
A spokeswoman for British Airways said: “They always reduce the number of flights for their winter schedule — they’ve been doing this since they started flying the route back in 2012, so this reduction is very much in line with previous years.”
She added that the route would be reviewed and that the airline would “look to have a similar capacity (to the six a day) in place come the start of the summer schedule which commences end of March 2018”.
But Chris Morrow, the head of policy at the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “The Northern Ireland business community will be disappointed at British Airways’ decision to reduce the number of flights to Heathrow from Belfast. Northern Ireland needs frequent services from a number of carriers to Heathrow and we hope that this is only a temporary change. The more connections we have to London the better — with multiple carriers and a wide selection of flights keeping fares competitive.
“Heathrow offers access to a wide range of global destinations and plays a key role in the drive to expand exports, foreign direct investment (FDI) and tourism. Whilst international connections are essential for our bigger and locally-owned companies as well as existing FDI businesses, London is crucially important for most smaller and medium-sized enterprises, which continue to account for the vast majority of activity and employment within the region.”
One travel industry observer said British Airways’ decision was worrying. “Travellers will have more restricted flight options and fares will inevitably rise.”
An early-morning flight at 6.45am Belfast City to Heathrow next Friday cost £93 if booking yesterday, though waiting for two hours to fly with Aer Lingus cost £81 with checked baggage.
It’s understood that intense competition between Ryanair and easyJet — which both fly to London’s Gatwick Airport from Belfast International — could be drawing travellers away from Heathrow routes.Flying from Belfast International with Ryanair would cost from £16.99 on the 6.55am flight on Friday July 14, while the same route flying with easyJet at 6.15am the same day would cost from £37.49.