Thursday, March 13, 2008

American Airlines to Gatwick: 'Buh-Bye'

The Open Skies agreement between the U.S. and the E.U. was designed to create new competitive opportunities for flying between U.S. cities and European cities. And it will.

On the other hand, American Airlines is moving its last flight from Gatwick to Heathrow, obviously as an anti-competitive thrust against both Continental and British Airways. Continental recently paid an amazing $209 million to acquire for four Heathrow slots, as part of its plan to start service between Heathrow and New York under the Open Skies provision that allows Continental to begin flying to and from London's main airport.

Both Willie Walsh, the British Airways chief executive, and Richard Branson, the Virgin Atlantic founder and honcho, have been grumbling quite loudly with complaints that the first phase of Open Skies gives a competitive edge to U.S. carriers and that the second phase, due to kick in next year, had better well give European carriers more freedom to acquire U.S. carriers outright or to operate more freely within U.S. cities.

An airline brawl is shaping up over the Atlantic. Usually that's good news, at least temporarily, for customers. It's gonna get noisy and ugly fast.

Anyway, this is the announcement from American Airlines:

"FORT WORTH, Texas -- American Airlines will move three of its London flights from Gatwick Airport to Heathrow Airport in the coming weeks as part of the "Open Skies" agreement between the United States (U.S.) and the European Union (EU) which takes effect March 30.

American previously announced that it will move one of its two daily round-trips between Dallas/Fort Worth and London Gatwick, as well as its daily round-trip between Raleigh/Durham and Gatwick, to London Heathrow Airport on March 30.

In addition, American will be moving its second daily round trip between DFW and Gatwick to Heathrow on April 13. American recently obtained additional take-off and landing slots at Heathrow to make that move possible. This will result in the closure of American's Gatwick operations after 26 years of service. All of American's employees at Gatwick have been offered jobs at the airline's other London locations.

"We want to strengthen our competitive position within the new 'Open Skies' regime, so it makes sense to focus our efforts in London at Heathrow," said Henry Joyner, American's Senior Vice President - Planning. "These changes do not impact the total number of American flights to and from London. We'll operate up to 18 daily departures to Heathrow this summer from seven U.S. airports."

American's London Heathrow gateway cities in the U.S. will be: New York (JFK), Boston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, and Raleigh/Durham.

In addition, while not directly related to the new "Open Skies" agreement, American will continue to serve London Stansted Airport from New York's JFK Airport. [My note: That flight flight, added in October, was a competitive thrust against Eos Airlines, the all-business-class carrier that began flying between New York and Stansted in late 2005]

American will add a second daily Stansted round trip beginning Aug. 1. ...

The new "Open Skies" agreement also allows airlines to add new cities within Europe to codeshare relationships with other airlines. Effective April 13 American intends to add 12 new destinations by expanding its existing codeshare agreement with Spain's Iberia Airlines, one of its oneworld Alliance partners. Among the 12 new destinations are Valencia, Seville, Gran Canaria, Brussels, and Lisbon. American flies nonstop between its Miami hub and Madrid, where passengers will be able to easily connect to the new destinations."


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