The Basics of United’s Basic Economy

When I first heard that United was unveiling a Basic Economy product comparable to the experience of an ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC), I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect. On the one hand, I have flown on an ULCC – Spirit Airlines – and have not been overly impressed with anything except for the cost of my ticket. However, I am a big believer in making flying as accessible as possible, and while I do think that even the legacy carriers have decreased their airfares across the board, there are certain amenities that certain people simply don’t feel that they need on a short domestic flight: food, drink, etc.

What are the differences?

To the average traveler, the two main things that differentiate Basic Economy from United’s normal Economy product are:

  1. The traveler cannot bring a carry-on bag on board the aircraft. Personal items are allowed, however.
  2. You cannot choose your seat when you purchase your ticket. Seats are assigned at check-in.

Another component of Basic Economy – one that is perhaps less pertinent to people who don’t fly frequently – is that frequent flyers cannot earn elite qualifying miles (EQMs) with Basic Economy fares. They will earn redeemable “award miles” that can be used towards redeeming flights in the future, but these miles will not count towards the earning of elite status. (If you want to learn more about the difference between award miles and EQMs, check out this comprehensive explanation from The Points Guy).

United isn’t the first airline to go with a form of “assigning” seats. In fact, Southwest Airlines’ unique policy gives every traveler a boarding classification consisting of a letter (A-C) and number (1-60) based on when they check in, albeit Southwest elite members are assigned a better boarding position (usually A1-A15), hence allowing them a better chance at their preferential seat. Southwest claims that this makes boarding far more efficient, and as someone who has flown on Southwest I can’t disagree: both boardings were extremely quick. However, I personally like to know that I’m getting a window seat, so – for that reason – this wouldn’t be something that I would choose. With Southwest, you can get in a solid boarding position by checking in early: I got window seat 3F from position B6, which was in the second full boarding group. With United, however, you’re relying on the luck of the draw. Additionally, passengers sitting Basic Economy seats are relegated to the last boarding group. Not a huge deal, but some might not enjoy having to wait to board and – likely – disembark.

I can’t say that I’m super upset about less carry-ons, though. As someone who often sees people either struggling to fit their (too large) carry-on into the overhead compartment, I personally think that a lot of people try to push the limit with carry-ons. A personal item, however, is much more restrictive, and the consequences of not being able to fit said item under the seat are, I think, more likely to deter people from making poorly-advised decisions regarding how large their personal item is.

What don’t people like about ULCCs?

There are a number of reasons, but I’ll outline my own reason for avoiding ULCCs.

I’ve only flown twice on an ULCC, both times with Spirit. And while my sample size of ULCC experiences is admittedly small, my issue with ULCCs has been the sheer lack of reliability that I’ve experienced. Both times I’ve flown Spirit, the way out has been on time, but the way back has been delayed by at least an hour; in the second case (a return flight from BWI), it was 2 1/2 hours. And while Spirit did provide a $50 voucher for that delay, that was enough for me to decide that enough is enough. Delay me once, shame on me; delay me twice, shame on you.

Additionally, the difference in price between a ULCC and your average low-cost carrier (LCC) is usually negligible. In fact, jetBlue, which is my favorite domestic airline, is a low-cost carrier, and I’ve found its prices to be cheaper than or comparable to those of Spirit on many occasions. Why would I pay $10 less for vastly inferior comfort, service, and reliability?

Moreover, the top two U.S. airlines in terms of customer satisfaction ratings – jetBlue and Southwest – are both LCCs. Ultimately, LCCs have proven that there is no inherent need to sacrifice neither the hard product (materials/physical amenities/etc.) nor the soft product (service/food/drink/etc.) for savings. Given their inferior customer satisfaction scores, it appears that some U.S.-based ULCCs still haven’t comprehended that.

What’s the difference between Basic Economy and a ULCC?

Simply put, United’s hard product is significantly superior to that of Spirit and other ULCCs. While those airlines charge for basically everything except breathing and using the bathroom, United passengers will be able to enjoy in-flight entertainment (where available), Wi-Fi (for purchase), and a normal Economy seat (even if it’s in a less-than-desirable location),. Conversely, most Spirit planes have tiny tray tables, no Wi-Fi, and the seats make me feel like I’m in a sardine can. Of course, United’s economy isn’t comparable to a day at the spa, but it’s far more comfortable than anything comparable that you’ll find on a ULCC.

Is Basic Economy worth it?

Given my desire to know that I’m getting a window seat, I probably would not choose a Basic Economy seat, although I am an admittedly rare case. Besides, the routes which United flies out of my home airport are usually pretty affordable anyway – I’ve flown both BOS-ORD and BOS-EWR for less than $100 round trip – so the cost savings don’t justify the concession I’d have to make in terms of predictability.

However, for the average person who travels light and just wants to get on the plane, then I’d say it’s absolutely worth it: you’ll get a reasonably comfortable seat, a hard product that is far better than the ULCCs, and will even get complementary food and drinks. And, most importantly, you’ll get a very good deal.


The Worst-Kept Secret Finally Revealed: British Airways announces service to New Orleans

After a two-week delay, officials at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport finally announced this morning what many had long suspected: British Airways will begin serving the Louisiana city in March of 2017 non stop from London Heathrow.

This represents a massive coup for New Orleans, as the city had long sought to gain a flagship international carrier. Leisure airline Condor of Germany stated its intention to start seasonal service between New Orleans and Frankfurt, which certainly proved that New Orleans is thought of as a veritable destination. However, securing British Airways service – which the city began pitching as far back as 2012 – is an even more momentous accomplishment, as the U.K.’s flag carrier is known for being exceptionally stingy about starting new service to markets that are not served from London.

The choice of three-class Boeing 787-800 Dreamliners as the aircraft to operate the route certainly makes sense. At 214 seats, the plane is smaller than other widebodies like the carrier’s 777 and 747 aircraft, but possesses the necessary range to make the 4,000+ mile journey. Moreover, unlike its big brother (the 787-900), the 787-800 is a three-class aircraft, meaning it doesn’t possess a first class cabin. And while first-class service is viable on routes with significant business travel (JFK-LHR) or celebrity travel (LAX-LHR), most people traveling to New Orleans will – at least to start – be leisure travelers. As such, the economics – both in terms of aircraft performance, capacity, and the type of traveler that will be catered to – makes sense.

Even so, New Orleans officials are optimistic that the service won’t just be a tourist boon, but will help the city “diversify the city’s tourism-heavy economy,” according to an article by Richard Thompson in the New Orleans Advocate. With a new nonstop link to Europe, such a feat seems more possible than before.




Hump Day Fare Hacks: October 19, 2016

Norwegian Index for October 19, 2016: 292.0

The Norwegian Index matched its all-time low, but the real story of the week is the legacy carriers.

Yesterday, I discovered that BOS-LHR had hit the lowest I’d ever seen, at $499.96 on British Airways. However, that wasn’t even the most incredible legacy deal that I found this week, as there were three even cheaper: JFK-CDG on American ($357), BOS-MUC on Lufthansa ($489), and JFK-MXP and EWR-MXP on Delta, Emirates, and United ($496).

In addition to Brexit, there are myriad factors playing into the emergence of this new reality. For one, low-cost carriers like Norwegian are certainly increasing competition on routes, affecting a number of markets in ways never seen before. Another change is that fuel prices have fallen significantly in the last year, making it cheaper for planes to fly. Moreover, airlines are implementing more fuel-efficient aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which will help carriers realize both short-term and long-term fuel savings.

Though I’m not sure if the drop in prices is primarily due to positive changes such as a decrease in operating expenses, or (from the airlines’ perspective) negative changes such as competition from Norwegian, WOW Air, et al, one thing is for certain: travelers are the ones to benefit.

Note: All routes profiled are based on a 7-day round trip (departing and arriving the same day a week apart), unless otherwise noted. That said, I strongly encourage you to play with a variety of dates and trip lengths and see what you can find.


Boston – Amsterdam

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 5, 11-24, 27-30
  • February (2017) 2, 4-16, 20, 21, 24-28
  • March (2017) 1, 4-9, 11-25, 28-31
  • April (2017) 3-6

Carrier: Delta Air Lines
Price: $548

Thoughts: Flights between the U.S. and Amsterdam have traditionally been very expensive. And while the New York flights to the Dutch capital were the first to decrease in price, it appears that BOS-AMS is following suit.

Boston – London Gatwick

Leave on:

  • December 4
  • January (2017) 15, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 30
  • February (2017) 1, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 20, 22, 26, 27
  • March (2017) 1, 6, 20, 22

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $324

Thoughts: A new low-water mark for this route. It doesn’t have the same number of dates as the route profiled below, but it’s an exceptional price for those looking to score a deal.

Boston – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • November 16, 22-24, 26-30
  • December 1-8, 12, 13, 18, 30, 31
  • January (2017) 5-31
  • February (2017) 1, 2, 6-28
  • March (2017) 1-24

Carrier: British Airways
Price: $499.96

Thoughts: Normally I round up to the nearest dollar, as that’s what Google Flights generally does, but BOS-LHR being less than $500 round trip is such a low price that it absolutely had to be conveyed in its exact form.

Boston – Munich

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 17-31
  • February (2017) 1, 2, 4-15, 21-28
  • March (2017) 1-3, 6-9, 13-18, 24, 25, 31

Carrier: Lufthansa
Price: $489

Thoughts: I was pretty pessimistic on the potential longevity of this price last week ($490), but it’s gone down by a dollar, so what do I know?

Boston – Paris

Leave on:

  • November 16, 21, 23, 26-30
  • December 1-8, 11-13
  • January (2017) 9-12, 15-17, 19-24, 26-31
  • February (2017) 20, 21, 23-28
  • March (2017) 1, 2, 5
  • April (2017) 5, 6

Carrier: Air France
Price: $551

Thoughts: Another lower-than-normal price by a legacy carrier on a traditionally expensive route.


New York JFK – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 21, 28
  • February (2017) 4, 11, 18, 25
  • March (2017) 4, 11, 18

Carriers: Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic Airways
Price: $514

Thoughts: While this week does represent a shift in the available dates for the lowest price, there are still a number of April and May dates for even cheaper than last week’s lowest price. Things are looking good, New Yorkers.

New York JFK and Newark – Milan

Leave on:

  • October 26
  • November 2, 8, 9, 15, 16, 22, 23, 29, 30
  • December 6, 7, 13

Carriers: Delta Air Lines (JFK), Emirates (JFK), United Airlines (EWR)
Price: $496

Thoughts: If it was just Emirates offering this fare, I’d say that it was likely a fare sale, as it’s extremely rare for the world’s #1 airline (according to Skytrax) to charge so little. But since three carriers are offering the fare, it may well be a shift in the market.

Note: Not all three airlines will necessarily be offering that fare for all of those dates. However, those are the dates when flights between New York (including EWR) and Milan are running for $496 round trip.

New York JFK – Oslo

Leave on:

  • February (2017) 5, 7

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $282

Thoughts: I would anticipate that the number of available dates will expand in due course.

New York JFK – Paris

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 17-27, 30, 31
  • February (2017) 1-3, 5-11, 13-15, 20-28
  • March (2017) 6, 8, 15, 22, 28, 29

Carrier: American Airlines
Price: $357

Thoughts: Having put forth the lowest price I’d ever seen American charge for a transatlantic route last week ($433), the carrier went and lowered the price by a further $76, beating the pants off of even Norwegian. I believe “floored” is the term that best describes my reaction.

New York JFK – Stockholm

Leave on:

  • February (2017) 3, 6

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $285

Thoughts: The same sentiment expressed in the JFK-OSL deal applies here.

Delta Announces Boston to Dublin Flights: What’s the incentive?

Last week, Delta Air Lines broke the news that it’s slated to begin service between Boston Logan and Dublin. These seasonal flights will be operated by the carrier’s Boeing 757-200 aircraft.

This addition is the latest in a long line of intercontinental coups that Logan has bagged in recent years. Prior to 2012, the airport was primarily known as simply being an access point to other continents, as it only possessed nine destinations in Europe*. Since then, however, Boston has transformed into a true international gateway in the last four years with a number of new European and Asian routes. Here’s a brief recap of the destinations added, along with the airlines that serve those destinations:


  • Tokyo – Japan Airlines


  • Beijing – Hainan Airlines
  • Dubai – Emirates
  • Istanbul – Turkish Airlines


  • Hong Kong – Cathay Pacific
  • Shanghai – Hainan Airlines
  • Tel Aviv – El Al


  • Copenhagen – Norwegian Air Shuttle, Scandinavian Airlines
  • Doha – Qatar Airways
  • Dusseldorf – airberlin
  • Lisbon – TAP Portugal
  • London Gatwick – Norwegian Air Shuttle
  • Manchester, UK – Thomas Cook Airlines
  • Oslo – Norwegian Air Shuttle

That’s 13 new intercontinental destinations, a figure which is even more staggering considering Logan had nine European destinations prior to 2012 – so a 250% increase in destinations.* It should be noted that the five largest European markets – London, Paris, Dublin, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam – all had non stop flights before 2012, so it wasn’t like Logan had a dearth of intercontinental options. However, it is impressive that Massport has been able to bring in so many new carries and establish an AsiaPac presence that – cameos from Korean and El Al aside – didn’t exist.

If you read the various aviation forums, you’ll know that most people don’t really consider Boston to be a Delta “hub.” Their skepticism isn’t off-base, either, as Delta isn’t even the major carrier at the airport (that honor belongs to jetBlue). Moreover, as a major U.S. airline, Delta has an interest in acquiring traffic between Boston and its major transatlantic O+D markets: London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Dublin. And while it has a significant presence in the first three cities listed, BOS-DUB is dominated by Aer Lingus, which has two daily flights between the U.S. and Ireland.

Is this a power move by Delta? Yes and no.

It certainly helps the carrier augment its position as a hub in Boston, and it also solidifies its position as the dominant U.S.-based carrier between Boston and Europe. And while such a designation isn’t really under threat, as the only other U.S. airline to fly between Boston and Europe is American and its seasonal 757 to Paris, Delta will now serve four European destinations from Boston.

That said, even with Delta entering this market, Aer Lingus will still have the majority of market share, both due to brand loyalty and capacity as Aer Lingus operates the Airbus A330, which is significantly larger than the Boeing 757s that Delta will fly on the route. Additionally, BOS-DUB doesn’t have the same number of passengers as BOS-LHR or BOS-CDG. Yet by establishing seasonal service on a smaller aircraft than the Boeing 767s it flies to London and Paris or the Airbus A330 it flies to Amsterdam**, Delta has a low-risk “in” to a market that has traditionally posted very good load factors. So why not give it a shot?

Of course, there are a number of elements that factor into an airline’s decision to launch a route. Even so, this one seems like a no-brainer.

* Including countries in continental Europe, as well as the British Isles. This does not include remote European locations such as Iceland and Portugal’s Azores.

** Yes, the featured image is a Delta Airbus A330, but that was the only free stock image I could find.

Heathrow Hacks: Cheap British Airways flights from Boston to London

While perusing Google Flights the other day, I put in “BOS” and “LHR.” Though non stop flights between the two airports have dramatically decreased in price from the $952 round trip (that was the base fare: total cost of $1,034, as choosing window seats ahead of time was $41 each way) when I went to England in the Fall of 2014, they still run generally between $750 and $990.

With all that in mind, you can imagine my surprise when I saw a non stop flight from Boston to London Heathrow that was priced at $512 round trip. Yes, $512. And this wasn’t just one flight that was priced so low: I looked further and found a number of dates in November and December in which round trips of varying lengths – everything from a few days to a week and perhaps even more – are priced significantly lower than normal.

First example of dates.


Second example of dates.

You might’ve noticed that the links next to the buttons say “Book with American.” The reason for this is that these fares are being sold through American – British Airways’ price is significantly higher. The reason that AA can sell BA flights is because – given that both are members of the oneworld alliance – they have a codeshare, which allows them to sell each other’s flights. This is usually helpful when a neither a direct flight nor multiple flights on the same airline are available between a given origin and destination, so – instead of booking multiple tickets on multiple airlines – the customer only has to buy one ticket that will work on all segments of the route. Even so, that begs an interesting question: why can American sell the fare cheaper than BA?

Great question, and I wish I knew the exact answer. It’s possible that this is an example of a “mistake fare,” where the price is set incorrectly. However, I’m not sure that this is the case, as a mistake fare is often priced at significantly less than 50% of the normal fare (e.g. a $1,200 Emirates flight going for $150).

Moreover, these fares are being offered in a particularly slow time of year for international travel: the period between the end of fall and the Christmas holidays. For example – although I myself did – not many people travel to the U.K. for Thanksgiving, which perhaps drives the prices of flights between the U.S. and the U.K. down. Of course, this is an unconfirmed hypothesis – I’d have to check a number of other fares to see how prevalent it is – but I can very much see it being the case, and I’d be willing to guess that such is the case here.

But what about Norwegian?

If you’ve read Hump Day Fare Hacks, you’ll know that Norwegian Air Shuttle tends to offer super low ($300-$400) fares on the Boston to London Gatwick route. So why is this – at $100+ more expensive – such a good deal?

First off, BA is what is called a “full-service” airline. This means that – at the very least – you get a checked bag, a meal, drinks, and refreshments included with your fare. Meanwhile, as a low-cost carrier, Norwegian charges for each of those things. If you simply want to get from A to B, Norwegian is undoubtedly cheaper. However, should you want the same amenities on Norwegian that you’d get on BA, you’ll likely end up spending an amount comparable to the price of the BA ticket.

Second, BA has four daily flights each way between Boston and London. Going over, there’s a morning flight BA238, an early evening flight BA212, and two night flights, BA214 and BA202. Coming back, there’s a late-morning flight, BA213, two late afternoon flights, BA203 and BA215, and one night flight, BA239. Norwegian, meanwhile, has just one each way – DY7148 going over, DY7147 coming back – and it operates four times per week. Moreover – and this may only matter to avgeeks like myself – BA will operate three different types of aircraft on the route – the Boeing 787, 777, and 747 – each with its own layout and perks. Norwegian, meanwhile only flies the 787, although I must say that Norwegian’s 787s are extremely comfortable based on my trip to Oslo. All other things equal, BA gives travelers a significantly larger number of options than Norwegian does.

Third, Gatwick, located in the county of West Sussex, is a bit further from the heart of London than is Heathrow, which is located in London proper. However, this is negligible, as while a train from Heathrow is quicker, it’s not by much – the Gatwick express is almost as fast.

Finally, some prefer the fact that Gatwick is smaller and easier to get around than Heathrow. Think of Gatwick being like Newark compared to New York JFK being like Heathrow: Newark does have its own issues, and JFK will give you more options, but Newark is – in my opinion – much easier to get in and out of than JFK. The same could be said for Gatwick compared to Heathrow.

Bottom Line: Do what works for you!

Personally, I’m a BA loyalist, although Norwegian’s prices are certainly tempting. That said, I can definitely understand why many would prefer to fly for significantly cheaper on the latter, even if Norwegian doesn’t have as many flight options or amenities as BA boasts. I myself flew Norwegian from Boston to Oslo this past April, and I thought they did a fantastic job, especially for the price. And though I’ve likely firmed up my travel plans for the fall, leaving me with no room to plan a spontaneous trip to England, I encourage any Boston-based travelers thinking of a trip to the U.K. to consider this deal – although I don’t believe it will last!

Would jetBlue Flights to Europe Be a Success? Maybe.

At some point in the last year or two, I said something to the effect of “why can’t jetBlue just [explicit synonym for “take a risk”] and launch transatlantic flights?” Given that the distance between Gander, NF and Shannon, Ireland is significantly less than the 3,000+ mile maximum range of both the Airbus A320 and A321, I figured that jetBlue aircraft could easily make the trip to Europe from New York JFK or Boston (its main hub and focus city, respectively). Indeed, jetBlue’s success within the United States made it seem logical that the carrier would start to offer transatlantic flights.

It turns out that I wasn’t considering the whole picture. While I’m by no means an expert, my knowledge of the aviation has evolved significantly since then, making me better able to understand why a carrier wouldn’t want to start transatlantic service even if it has planes that can handle the trip.

That’s all irrelevant. What is pertinent, though, is that jetBlue’s Q2 2016 earnings report indicated that the carrier has decided to modify a pre-existing Airbus order to include the manufacturer’s A321LR — a narrow body aircraft part of the A320neo family that’s designed to give carriers a lower-density option for long-haul sectors such as flights between the U.S. and Europe.

The bottom-right corner indicates a not-so-subtle hint that jetBlue is contemplating flights to Europe. (jetBlue)

Of course, jetBlue has not committed to launching any particular route. More importantly, the first A321LR won’t be delivered for some time, so this is still a ways off. However, it is worth analyzing the claims and considerations that critics and supporters alike will be making about the potential success or failure of such an operation.

The Arguments Against: There are challenges in terms of operations, opposition, and jetBlue’s ability to be competitive with offerings.

Operations: This is more of an existing challenge, as it would be mitigated by the arrival of the A321LR. Still, it is worth examining.

As a result of charging less than other carriers, jetBlue needs to ensure that its planes are as full as possible. While more people on the plane results in more revenue, it also means more weight.

In the case of air travel, more weight equals less efficiency, which necessitates more fuel — thus a “lighter” narrow body will have a much easier time crossing the ocean than a heavier one. Certainly, a jetBlue A320 could fly nonstop from New York or Boston to Europe, but it would have to be fairly empty, and that’s ultimately the antithesis of putting as many people on the plane as possible. This — along with a number of other operational reasons — is likely why jetBlue hasn’t forayed into transatlantic flights yet.

Opposition: While jetBlue has made a name for itself as an excellent low-cost carrier within the Americas, it wouldn’t be the first carrier to offer low-cost transatlantic service.

For example, Norwegian Air Shuttle, another low-cost carrier who has undertaken a significant number of transatlantic operations, seats 291 passengers in its Boeing 787s — 65 more seats than an American Airlines 787. And while American can afford to have less seats due to the existence of business class (28 flat bed seats) and premium economy (57 seats), Norwegian’s focus on low-cost service means that its premium economy offering is significantly smaller (32 seats).

Norwegian Air Shuttle is arguably the pioneer of the low-cost transatlantic industry.

Moreover, Norweigan has caused significant controversy within the U.S. aviation industry, as it is alleged to pay pilots significantly less than their American counterparts, thus giving it an unfair competitive advantage. jetBlue, meanwhile, wouldn’t and couldn’t do the same, in all likelihood, so it is uncertain whether its prices could be competitive with Norwegian.

Offerings: As a low-cost carrier, jetBlue doesn’t have the same desire as legacy carriers to pander to those seeking premium options. And while this certainly works domestically, the success of most airlines’ intercontinental operations is largely dependent on revenue from business travelers.

Often times, premium tickets are either paid for by one’s employer or come about as a result of a status-based upgrade. So while many casual travelers would like to pay less to travel to Europe, legacy carriers have no problem filling “high-fare” seats, so they have little inclination to lower their prices. As a result, simply offering low fares would likely not be enough for jetBlue to eat into a significant chunk of transatlantic legacy carrier operations.

Certainly, there is a possibility that a new low-cost transatlantic market could be established, but it doesn’t appear that this will be happening anytime soon. In fact, I think it’s more likely that an unsuccessful route would be dropped before an airline would decrease prices to win back passengers, as the “willingness to pay” of business and other well-to-do travelers will leave legacy carriers with little incentive to lower fares for the Average Joe.

The Arguments For: Satisfaction equals success, whether at home or abroad.

Since it was first established in 1998, jetBlue has been a resounding success. Even though it is a low-cost carrier, this characteristic has not had a negative impact on its level of service. In fact, jetBlue has been the highest-ranked U.S. carrier by a number of respected ranking authorities, including JD Power and Skytrax, and the latter named it as just one of two four-star American carriers (the other being Virgin America).

jetBlue has been ranked the #1 airline in the United States by JD Power for the past 12 years.

While an important factor in examining a carrier’s success, quality of service isn’t the only are where jetBlue has been successful. jetBlue has an extensive route network, serving Cancun and Mexico City, a number of Caribbean countries, and select South American destinations. Though it has mostly made its name thanks to its successful domestic operations, jetBlue has proven its ability to operate viable routes outside of the United States.

Ultimately, jetBlue has built a sterling reputation based on low fares, excellent service, and incredible comfort. Assuming that its international product would be able to offer the same levels of quality, these attributes could result in a large number of international travelers choosing to fly jetBlue as opposed to a legacy carrier.

The Key Consideration: jetBlue would have to choose its routes carefully.

In addition to the necessary technical considerations, jetBlue would need to be strategic in its choice of routes. Sure, it could enter major markets, and would be able to offer fares lower than the legacy carriers, but there are a number of considerations to be made:

  1. It can’t compete with the premium offerings (first class and business class) of airlines such as Air France, British Airways, KLM, and Lufthansa. On routes like JFK-LHR, business travelers and other high-paying customers play a significant part in revenue.
  2. Entering a new market where extensive competition already exists (such as NYC-LON, NYC-FRA, etc.) is much more difficult than establishing a new market. That said, building a new market is certainly risky, and some might argue that those markets don’t already exist “for a reason,” so extensive market research would need to be done in terms of route viability.
  3. While jetBlue could fly to alternative airports within a particular city, it has built its U.S. network around major airports. In fact, it serves each of the nation’s 10 busiest airports, so it is unlikely that the carrier would want to hedge its bets on success at smaller airports.
  4. Although Norwegian has certainly introduced a number of low-cost transatlantic flights, many feel that the “legacy” carriers still charge fares that are too expensive on these routes. While I’d certainly like to pay less to fly to Europe, I don’t entirely buy this argument: Hump Day Fare Hacks has proved that there are a number of incredible transatlantic fares out there, and 60% of the flights profiled to this point are non-Norweigan legacy carriers.

Bottom line: Whether it means establishing new routes or starting to serve existing ones, jetBlue would have to pick the right markets to enter. And while this might sound obvious, it is — in my opinion — the absolute key factor that will make or break jetBlue as a potential transatlantic carrier. Personally, I hope it will choose to undertake transatlantic operations, and I also hope that such an attempt would be fruitful for the carrier. Either way, I’ve been fortunate to enjoy flying jetBlue domestically, and I look forward to continuing to do so.

The A380 is Coming: Boston to be Served by World’s Largest Airliner

Update 2: As of October 12, 2016, Routesonline posted that BA will be implementing the A380 on BOS-LHR starting March 26, 2017. I’ll keep watching this, and will let you know if there is an official announcement from either Massport or BA.

Update 1: As of August 15, 2016, it appears that BA has pulled its planned BOS-LHR A380 service on the dates previously planned. More on that here.

When rumors started making their way around various aviation forums last week that British Airways would be launching Boston’s first Airbus A380 service in early 2017, many of us – myself included – looked to the airline for some sort of verification that this was, indeed, the case. However, the only inkling of any news came from an Airlineroute post without any confirmation or sources, making me hesitant to write anything that would “break” any sort of news.

As of today, though, there is veritable proof: both Google Flights and the official British Airways website have confirmed that the “superjumbo” is, indeed, coming to Boston, starting February 2, 2017 and running until March 12 (to begin). Early afternoon arrival BA213 and early evening departure BA212 will be operated by an A380 Thursday through Sunday, while the 747 will operate the flights Monday through Wednesday. Boston will be the first airport in the Northeastern United States to be served by the BA A380 – even ahead of New York JFK (more on that here).

Bringing the A380 to Logan has long been a goal of both Massport and a number of different airlines, British Airways being one of them. However, the main impediment that both carriers and the airport have faced is the lack of A380-capable gates at Logan.

Since Terminal E was first built in 1974, there has not been any addition to or modification of the international gates at Logan. And while the existing infrastructure has been enough to handle the variety of large aircraft that have served the people of Greater Boston, the A380 poses a number of quandaries that necessitates a number of modifications.

Case in point: the A380 requires specially-constructed gates. While Boston does see “double deckers” in the form of the Boeing 747-400s operated year-round by British Airways and Lufthansa and the Boeing 747-800s flown seasonally by Lufthansa, the number of seats on a 747’s upper level – regardless of variation – pales in comparison to the number of “upstairs” seats that the A380 has. As such, the A380 necessitates bi-level gates, something that Logan doesn’t have. However, construction of the gates is currently in progress, and should be completed by the end of 2016. With that in mind, it makes sense that the first A380 flights are slated to arrive in February.

British Airways’ status as the first carrier planning to bring the A380 to Boston is somewhat of a surprise. After all, BA’s fleet currently has just 12 A380s. Emirates, meanwhile, operates 82, nearly seven times the number that BA possesses, flying them to a number of “smaller” cities such as Copenhagen, Manchester, Mexico City, and Toronto. All that said, it seemed to be logical that Boston – a city of approximately 600,000 – would see an Emirates A380 far before one from British Airways, whose A380s operate between London and a number of large “global” cities, including Johannesburg, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Singapore.

Yet there are a number of reasons that BA would be interested in flying the A380 to Boston. For one, Boston to London is the ninth-largest transatlantic sector between North America and Europe, as nearly a million people fly between the two cities every year. BA flies three flights per day year-round on the BOS-LHR route, four in the summer, and at least one of those flights is operated by the 747.

Furthermore, load factors (% of seats filled) are quite good, normally well north of 70% – my flight to LHR on a 747 in November of 2014 was completely full, for the record. If BA can post solid load factors on two 747s per day, then it can certainly do well with an A380.

The A380 is markedly larger than the 747s that British Airways has flown to Boston for decades, and can carry around 40% more passengers. As such, many are tempted to say that the A380 will be replacing the 747 on BOS-LHR routes, as it will be able to hold more passengers and, thus, allow BA to decrease frequency.

Anything is possible, to be sure. However, I think this is an oversimplification of BA’s strategic thinking; while I definitely see BA increasing the number of A380s it sends to New England, I also don’t see it looking to stop flying the 747 to Boston anytime soon for a few reasons.

For one, the 747 isn’t as efficient as the other long-haul aircraft that BA has in its fleet. Built in the 1990s, the 747-400s that the carrier flies are “gas guzzlers,” and the airline would rather use it on shorter flights where it can be filled rather than longer flights where its comparative inefficiency will be exposed (in the form of higher fuel costs). Believe it or not, BOS-LHR is one of the shortest long-haul flights that BA operates; routes like LHR-LAX and LHR-JNB – historically served by the 747 – are markedly longer. For that reason, I believe BA would rather utilize newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft – such as the A380 and the Boeing 777 – than the 747 on those routes.

Additionally, BOS-LHR is a route that is largely dependent on frequency. Unlike some flights between the US and the UK, BOS-LHR flights feature a number of business travelers who demand options, so taking away a flight per day isn’t likely to sit well with those travelers. As such, if BA can still fill a 747 in addition to an A380 and the other Boeing aircraft it will fly between Boston and London – the 777 and 787 – then the carrier is likely to do it.

Finally, there are the operational aspects to consider. BA – who is the world’s largest offer of the 747 – likely won’t retire the plane until well after 2020, as they’ve recently been retrofitted, which required a huge investment from the carrier. As a result of that, as well as my belief that BOS-LHR will likely be one of the last 747 routes to go, I think we can expect to see the A380 alongside 747s in Boston – rather the instead of them – until around that time.

I’ve been contemplating taking a trip to London next year. And while I’m still firmly a British Airways 747 loyalist, and would plan to take said aircraft home (I prefer westbound 747 flights, for some reason), I wouldn’t say no to taking the A380 on one of the two legs. If nothing else, it’d be a great experience, and one that I would certainly enjoy.