British Airways will return to short-haul flying from London Gatwick next year, the airline has said as it confirmed the go-ahead of its planned subsidiary, BA Euroflyer.
BA, which stopped flying from the West Sussex airport soon after the Covid pandemic started, will relaunch its short-haul leisure network in late March 2022, ending a break of almost two years.
Flights will initially be operated by BA itself, but the airline intends to hive off the business to the subsidiary later next year once it has received regulatory approval. Its parent group, IAG, has said that a new standalone business was needed to make the resumption financially viable, citing years of losses for BA at Gatwick even before Covid hit.
Tickets for flights to 35 short-haul destinations went on sale on Tuesday. Three Airbus short-haul planes will start operations in March, with the active fleet growing to 18 by the end of May.
BA Euroflyer will – like the BA CityFlyer operation at London City – remain BA-branded. Its launch came after unions initially rejected the plans, which are understood to demand much more flexibility from pilots and crew in seasonal work than permitted under normal BA rostering. Thousands of staff were laid off during the pandemic, and many now could be rehired under inferior terms and conditions.
The pilots’ union Balpa said the final agreement would “create up to 160 much needed pilot jobs in 2022” and had been tailored to fit the point-to-point flying model used by other major airlines.
BA said fares would start from £39 each way, to be competitive with Gatwick’s no-frills carriers, led by easyJet, but would come with the airline’s usual luggage allowances and basic snacks onboard.
The BA chief executive, Sean Doyle, said it was a “landmark moment” for the airline, adding: “The creation of a new British Airways short-haul organisation means Gatwick customers will benefit from access to a premium service from the UK’s flag carrier at competitive prices.”
Stewart Wingate, Gatwick’s chief executive, said: “Despite the ongoing public health situation, today’s announcement is a positive signal that consumer confidence is returning as people start thinking about making travel plans for next summer.”
While Gatwick and BA were upbeat about the launch, the air and travel industry was left dismayed again after the government chose not to lift the testing regime in a travel announcement on Tuesday.
The health secretary, Sajid Javid, confirmed the removal of the last 11 countries from the red list but did not follow through on suggestions that the recently reimposed requirement for expensive PCR testing would be scrapped.
Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “If the red list isn’t necessary given that [the Covid variant] Omicron is established here at home, then neither are the costly emergency testing and isolation measures imposed on even fully vaccinated travellers, which again put us completely at odds with the rest of Europe.”
The travel association Abta – which has reported autumn bookings being at less than 30% of normal levels – said the government needed to explain why tests would be retained through the Christmas period, adding that it should give financial support to the sector. Abta’s chief executive, Mark Tanzer, said: “With the industry quickly approaching peak booking season for summer 2022, travel businesses are facing a very serious situation. Consumer confidence in travel has suffered a significant setback, which will outlast these restrictions.”
The tourism body UKinbound said tests for vaccinated international arrivals were “stifling businesses across the inbound tourism industry”.
Eurostar said it had seen the rate of bookings halve since PCR tests were brought back, with more cancellations or rearranged trips than new bookings for the Christmas period. Its chief executive, Jacques Damas, said the restrictions came “at a heavy price for the industry”.