Touchdown: First Scheduled British Airways A380 Arrives in Boston

Anticipation of the Airbus

Soaring over a crowd of around 30 people on Castle Island, the first scheduled British Airways Airbus A380 arrived at Boston Logan this afternoon. Incidentally, it touched down on Runway 4R – which was the same runway that the Boeing 747 I was on landed on in 2014 – at around 1:30 p.m.

Speedbird 213 super soaring towards Runway 4R.

Last July, when the news first broke that BA would be flying its A380s from Boston to London Heathrow in 2017, I was hesitant to put much stock in it. Things change in the aviation world all the time, and so while that didn’t stop me from writing a post on it, I think it’s worth pointing out that there’s a difference between reporting the news and buying into it.

Initially, my skepticism seemed to be well-founded: in August, BA mysteriously pulled its scheduled deployment of the aircraft, with the apparent culprit being the delayed renovation of Terminal E. At that point, I thought that the delay was due to “typical Massachusetts construction,” as we often see construction projects cost more and take longer than anticipated (e.g. the Big Dig).

However, September saw BA reinstate its plans to launch A380 service to Logan, with the new start date scheduled for a month after the original planned introduction. And while the new schedule has the aircraft visiting only three days per week (Sunday, Monday, and Friday) as opposed to the original schedule which had it lined up to come four times per week (Thursday through Sunday), it appeared that the new timeline took into account the construction of the A380-capable gates and new Terminal E lounge.

March 26, 2017

Even though Emirates holds the distinction of having flown the first scheduled A380 to Boston – a one-off flight exactly two months before this one – BA is the first carrier to land a regularly-scheduled A380 in Boston.

On multiple occasions, I have said that I prefer the 747– and particularly BA’s 747s – to the A380. While that still holds true, I have developed a newfound admiration for the A380, particularly after traveling on it in China and experiencing how modern and efficient it is, and so I went to see the maiden arrival – operated by G-XLEE as BA213 – this afternoon (the aircraft will return to London tonight as BA212).

I arrived around 20 minutes before the aircraft was scheduled to land, and was surprised to find that there were a number of onlookers waiting with their cameras, phones, and scanners. I got out my phone to open Flightradar24, and saw that the aircraft was beginning its downwind leg.

 

IMG_1060
Visible, but not much detail here.

We continued to track G-XLEE, both visually and with FR24. Soon enough, it was starting its final approach.

IMG_1065
On final.

As it got closer, the sense went from ‘this is going to happen’ to ‘this is really happening.’ Correspondingly, the plane went from being a faraway object that was barely visible to an approaching aircraft that revealed more and more detail by the second.

Having disappeared from our vision over the shipyard, the aircraft touched down on 4R, arriving at the gate 10 minutes after the tires hit the tarmac. As such, the long-anticipated event was completed.

Looking Forward

With this arrival, Boston has seen a scheduled BA A380 before New York JFK. And while this is somewhat surprising given that JFK-LHR is the busiest transatlantic route in the world and that BA is the dominant carrier on that route, there are actually a few explanations for this seemingly counterintuitive circumstance.

Moreover, the arrival of the A380 does not mean that BA will stop sending 747s to Boston. Unlike some other U.S. destinations (such as San Francisco and Washington D.C.) where BA used to send 747s but now mostly sends A380s and 777s, BA will likely continue to fly the 747 to Boston alongside the A380 for quite some time. Today is a perfect example: while BA213 and BA212 are operated by an A380, BA203 and BA202 are being flown by a 747.

Why is this?

Well, in addition to boasting good load factors on its BOS-LHR route, which means that it can fill a large number of seats, BA recently retrofitted a portion of its 747 fleet with a modernized cabin and more business class seats. Given that BOS-LHR is a route with high “premium” demand (e.g. a large number of first and business class travelers), the retrofitted aircraft still have a decent amount of life left in them, and that more than 790,000 people traveled between Logan and London Heathrow last year, it makes sense that Boston as a destination can support two four-engine, double-decker planes in the same day.

Most of all, I’m curious to know which of Logan’s runways the A380 uses. While the “main” runways – 4R/22L and 15R/33L – are obviously capable of handling an A380, I am curious to see if the two “supporting” runways – 4L/22R and 9/27 – will see any A380 action. Performance-wise, I think it’s possible, as the A380 has superior takeoff performance to the 747 and I have observed a number of 747s use 4L/22R and 9/27, but I can’t say for sure.

Despite a cloudy day, the sight of the Superjumbo was a bright spot on this particular Sunday. With any luck, there will be many more to come.

Super Arrival: Emirates brings first scheduled A380 to Boston

As Emirates flight 237 approached Logan on the afternoon of January 26, 2017, it was evident that there was something different about this particular sector. In fact, it was an arrival that had air traffic controllers correcting themselves.

“Emirates 237 heavy…erm, correction, Emirates 237 super,” said the voice from Boston Approach after the Airbus A380 from Dubai made initial contact with the controller. A few minutes later, a Boston Tower controller had a similar exchange with the crew of the plane, which will return to DXB tonight as EK238.

These verbal stumbles were understandable. After all, Boston Logan has seen plenty of regularly-scheduled “heavy” arrivals and departures – a designation which is normally assigned to wide body aircraft like the Boeing 747 – over the years. However, this was the first time that the “super” designation, used by ATC for the very largest aircraft, had been used by a scheduled BOS arrival. And while the A380 operating in the place of the 777-300ER that normally operates this on this route is a one-off that was likely done to ensure that the recent upgrades to Logan’s Terminal E are A380-compatible, it was nevertheless an exciting event.

Fortunate Spotters Capture the Event

This wasn’t a significant media event by any means, but a number of fortunate spotters snapped pictures of the A380. The landing on Runway 22L was even caught on video by Instagram user nesam_sherovala, which allowed those of us who weren’t able to see the big bird touch down (such as myself) to enjoy the event virtually.

What it Means

I’ve said many times that I’ll always prefer the 747-400 to the A380, and today doesn’t change that. That said, this momentous arrival is exciting for the Boston aviation community, and – with British Airways scheduled to start flying the A380 on its BOS-LHR route alongside 747-400s, 777s, and 787-900s – signals the beginning of a new era at Logan.

Hump Day Fare Hacks: November 2, 2016

Norwegian Index for November 2, 2016: 300.0

The Norwegian Index is up, but prices across the Hump Day Fare Hacks board are down. Headlined by the cheapest Boston to London Heathrow flight I’ve ever seen at $460 round trip on British Airways, this week features a number of exceptional legacy deals. More impressive flights profiled this week Delta Air Lines and KLM offering JFK-AMS for $437, BOS-ZRH on Swiss Airlines for $448, and United Airlines selling EWR-SNN for $456.

Hump Day Fare Hacks will be going on hiatus for a bit, as I travel to China in three days (yikes!), but I fully intend to return to blogging after I get back! Who knows – maybe fares will plummet even more in that time.

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

Boston – Copenhagen

Leave on:

  • April (2017) 4, 11, 18, 25

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $317

Thoughts: Supah wicked cheap, guy!

Boston – London Gatwick

Leave on:

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

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $325

Thoughts: A pretty exceptional price, but while the face value is lower you will get more with the fare listed immediately below – I may be slightly biased. However, if you travel light and plan on bringing your own food/water/etc., then this may be the deal for you.

Boston – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • November 30
  • December 1-14, 29, 31
  • January (2017) 2-6, 8-31
  • February (2017) 1-16, 19-28
  • March 1-24

Carrier: British Airways
Price: $460

Thoughts: When BOS-LHR went below $500 a while ago – being priced at $499.96 – I thought that was for sure the low-water mark, as it was known to hover around $500-$501. This, however, was totally unexpected, and I must say that $460 for a non stop between these two cities – on a four-star airline like British Airways – is truly remarkable and an excellent value.

Boston – Oslo

Leave on:

  • March 27, 2017 (return April 4, 2017)
  • April 24, 2017 (return May 2, 2017)
  • May 22, 2017 (return May 30, 2017)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $294

Thoughts: Same low fares as last week, which means that this is still an exceptional price.

Boston – Zurich

Leave on:

  • April (2017) 8-11, 18, 19, 23-27, 29, 30
  • May (2017) 1-4, 6-10

Carrier: Swiss Airlines
Price: $448

Thoughts: It’s funny – this route goes for well in excess of $1,000 during the winter, but is less than $500 during the spring? #logic

NEW YORK

New York JFK – Amsterdam

Leave on:

  • March (2017) 28-31

Carriers: Delta Air Lines, KLM
Price: $437

Thoughts: What I didn’t include here is that – for just a dollar more – there are significantly more dates available on this route during the winter. However, this is certainly the low-water mark, so get it while you can!

Newark – Manchester

Leave on:

  • January 31, 2017
  • February (2017) 1-10, 12-18, 21-28
  • March (2017) 1-8, 10-22

Carriers: United Airlines
Price: $517

Thoughts: For the first time in recent memory, flights from New York to Manchester are cheaper than anything between New York and London Heathrow. (Puzzled face).

New York JFK – Oslo

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 13, 17, 19, 24
  • February 7, 2017

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $282

Thoughts: $15 off of last week and a match for JFK-ARN. Could this fare overtake (in the downward direction) the aforementioned route? Watch this space.

Newark – Shannon

Leave on:

  • November 25, 28, 30
  • December 2, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14
  • January (2017) 6, 9, 11, 13, 20, 23, 25, 27, 30
  • February (2017) 3, 6, 10, 13, 24
  • March (2017) 1, 3, 6, 8, 15

Carrier: United Airlines
Price: $456

Thoughts: If either major Irish destination from the U.S. breaks $500, it’s usually Shannon rather than Dublin. Even so, this is still exceptionally low.

New York JFK – Stockholm

Leave on:

  • February (2017) 3, 6

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $282

Thoughts: $2 down from last week, and with another available date. Expect both of those metrics to continue to move in a positive direction.

Low Overhead, High Impact: Airplane noise has Greater Boston up in arms

Wherever you travel around the world, chances are that pretty much every major city has a group of residents who have qualms with airplane noise. From London and the Cranford Agreement to the LaGuardia curfew in New York, airports, airlines, and pilots are forced to abide by certain rules in order to mitigate the inevitable noise that’s generated by aircraft.

Here in Boston, we’re not immune to these problems. As the 51st-largest airport in the world based on passenger traffic, Boston Logan International Airport sees a significant number of planes land and take off every day, many of which generate lots of noise. And while the implementation of RNAV (GPS) procedures from Runway 33L in 2013 as part of the FAA’s NextGen program has decreased the noise impact for a number of residents, it has conversely increased noise for others. As a result, there’s been palpable unrest in some of the impacted communities in the past few years.

The Basics

figure-1_500x459
A basic overview of Logan Airport.

As you can see from the graphic above, Logan has six runways:

  • Runway 15R/33L (10,083 feet)
  • Runway 4R/22L (10,006 feet)
  • Runway 4L/22R (7,864 feet)
  • Runway 9/27 (7,000 feet)
  • Runway 14/32 (5,000 feet)
  • Runway 15L/33R (2,557 feet)

Each runway is numbered by its magnetic heading. As you can tell, 4L/22R and 4R/22L run southwest to northeast, 9/27 runs east to west, and 14/32, 15L/33R, and 15R/33L run southeast to northwest.

Depending on which way the wind is blowing, the airport uses two (or more) runways at any given time. Each of the wind’s four intercardinal directions possesses its own configuration, each of which is illustrated below:

One minor qualm: the “Southeast configuration” doesn’t really exist as it is presented; it is extremely rare for arrivals to land 15R, as the ILS approach has an offset localizer. In that case, arrivals (interestingly enough) go to 4R.

What was it like before?

Prior to the implementation of 33L RNAV procedures, pilots used to simply fly generally along a given path. For example, a pilot who flew two 33L departures in a given month might make a left turn 30 seconds after rotation one time and a minute after rotation another time, which resulted in an extensive amount of variability in where the low-flying airplanes would be going. With RNAV, however, pilots are given a prescribed course of waypoints, often part of a SID (Standard Instrument Departure). These courses can even be flown by the plane’s autopilot, resulting in a route that’s much more precise than if it was simply “eyeballed.”

Generally speaking, a lot of communities west of Boston were forced to endure airplane noise, but such instances of noisy takeoffs were spread out. Below is an image that depicts the flight paths out of Logan before (green) and after (blue) RNAV implementation.

33l
As you can tell, flights have been much more specific in their routing since the implementation of 33L RNAV procedures.

Post-RNAV implementation has seen reductions in the number of communities impacted. However, the communities under RNAV patterns – particularly communities within the Route 128/I-95 belt – have seen a dramatic increase in overflights.

From Summer 2014 to Spring 2016, I lived in Somerville, quite close to waypoint TEKKK – the first GPS waypoint that planes departing from 33L must pass. As such, I got to watch an extensive number of aircraft from my bedroom window, flying a variety of routes, including the CELTK and LBSTA departures which are used by planes departing for Europe. And while I ultimately enjoyed seeing pretty much every heavy that went by, my favorite was undoubtedly the British Airways Boeing 747-400, which you’ll know if you read this blog regularly. Below, two pictures of that exact plane, taken from my living room:

212-d
The Union Jack turning left at TEKKK after takeoff from 33L.
213-r
Even caught a rare 15R arrival!

As you can tell from those pictures, those 747s were low – around 2,500 feet on departure and 1,500 feet on arrival. While I personally was thrilled to live in such an area, I know for a fact that many of my neighbors were not happy with the amount of air traffic coming over their heads. Even as an aviation enthusiast, I can understand why.

So who bears the brunt of the noise?

There is no foolproof way to know who in particular is impacted by airplane noise, or how much the total impact is (in terms of quality of life, decibels, etc.), so the best general metric I could devise was to aggregate the populations of all of the municipalities impacted by a given configuration.

As it is, the Northwest configuration – the one that uses 33L and 27 – has the largest impact on residents of the Greater Boston area. Due to the westerly direction of both runways, and the fact that Boston and most of its suburbs are located west of the airport, its SID patterns see aircraft of all sizes flying around or below 5,000 feet pass over a number of densely-populated communities, including Boston, Chelsea, Everett, Winchester, Medford, Somerville, Cambridge, Belmont, Watertown, Newton, Brookline, Quincy, and Milton. That’s not even including places like Waltham, which are further from the airport but where aircraft may well be below 5,000 feet depending on climb rates/etc. Even so, the total population of the area impacted by Northwest arrivals and departures is 1.503 million, or 22% of the Commonwealth’s population.

For perspective, the next closest operational configuration in terms of population impacted is the Southeast configuration, which sees aircraft take off and land over towns with a total population of 929,200, with the Northeast configuration affecting 886,000 people and the Southwest configuration impacting 884,900. Of course, all of those numbers factor in Boston’s 645,900 people, as each configuration has an impact on Boston proper, but the Northwest configuration sends by far the largest number of planes over Boston – particularly departures from 27. Moreover, even if we were to take out Boston’s population from each of those figures, the Northwest configuration would still have the largest number of residents impacted by a considerable amount.

If we want to consider solely departures as having a significant impact on residents by subtracting the municipalities over which solely see arrivals in a given configuration from the total, then the Northwest configuration still affects 1.475 million people. The remaining three, meanwhile, affect less than 50% of that number: the Southwest 737,100, the Northeast 718,400, and the Southeast 673,500. The reason that the latter three numbers are so low is because their departure procedures by and large send aircraft over water upon takeoff: even the southwest departures make an immediate left turn out to sea after takeoff from 22L or 22R, and 27 departures are virtually never used in the Southwest configuration. Northwest departures, meanwhile, are almost entirely over land for the first 5,000 feet.

Even so, it hasn’t just been the towns impacted by 33L departures who have felt aggrieved. Milton, which finds itself situated under the 4L visual and 4R ILS approaches, sees a number of aircraft, including 33L departures, albeit at a higher altitude than places like Belmont, Cambridge, Medford, and Somerville. And though – all things equal – the noise of a landing plane isn’t the same as one that’s taking off, Milton residents do have legitimate reasons to be concerned, as Milton selectmen have requested a study to evaluate the health impact of having so many planes flying low.

If RNAV increases concentration over certain neighborhoods, why implement it?

It’s the best solution for the majority of parties involved: pilots, passengers, and people on the ground.

Quite frankly, you can’t please everybody. Certainly, those living directly under these flight paths are much more heavily impacted than those who do not. However, as this Boston Globe article explains, RNAV procedures are designed to – among other things – increase safety and improve operational efficiency.

RNAV isn’t just beneficial for planes taking off; it also provides pilots with the ability to make smoother, more efficient descents. And while RNAV also has an impact on places over which planes are landing, logic suggests that, at least as far as sound is concerned, departures have a greater impact on residents than arrivals. This is because aircraft need significantly more power – which generates noise – to take off than they do to land. When a plane is taking off, it’s much heavier than it is when it’s landing, as it’s full of fuel. Moreover, the plane is forced to accelerate from a standstill to its takeoff speed, which can be up to 160 mph in the case of a 747. The principles behind landing, meanwhile, are just the opposite: a plane sheds speed – using minimal power – and comes in for a landing at a lighter weight and slower speed than it took off at. All other things equal, landings generate much less noise than takeoffs.

While this is an aviation blog, I certainly do sympathize with those who have to live in a location where airplane noise is consistent. However, until planes have the capability to fly without generating any engine noise, this will ultimately be an issue we’ll have to deal with.

The Numbers

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. According to this Massport table, numbers have shown that the distribution of flow configuration utilization is fairly equitable.

As far as jet departures are concerned, the 2016 YTD (January to September) numbers look like this:

  • Northwest configuration – 25.9%
  • Northeast configuration – 20.7%
  • Southwest configuration – 30.9%
  • Southeast configuration – 22.4%

Since Runway 9 is part of both the Northeast and Southeast configurations, its total number of departures have been split 50-50 between the total for each configuration for the purposes of this analysis. Of course, such a distribution is extremely unlikely, but I don’t have the resources to go back and analyze which Runway 9 departures were operations as part of which configuration, so I figured that was the most equitable way to do it.

Moreover, Northwest winds tend to increase in the late fall and winter, so perhaps the numbers don’t yet tell the full story. With that in mind, here’s the 2015 data:

  • Northwest configuration – 27.5%
  • Northeast configuration – 18.8%
  • Southwest configuration – 34.7%
  • Southeast configuration – 19.0%

Even the most-used runway – Runway 9 – which is part of both the Northeast and Southeast configurations has been used less than 1/3 of the time, at 32.5%. I’m certainly not trying to minimize the impact that Winthrop residents feel when planes take off or land on 9/27, as they are generally very low in both instances, but I don’t have the power to provide an immediate fix.

Moving Forward

As you can see, Logan already has relatively equitable distribution among the use of its runways. Each configuration has at least two, if not three, runways, and they are decided impartially. Moreover, the Massport Community Advisory Committe is conducting testing that will perhaps result in the developing runway usage plans, which would allow for more equitable sharing of noise, much like the runway alternation program at London Heathrow.

While a solution isn’t on the horizon at the moment, progress has been made. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure equitable distribution of noise while allowing aircraft to operate in a more safe and efficient pattern. Regardless of where you live, we should continue to strive for those ideals.

Hump Day Fare Hacks: October 12, 2016

Norwegian Index for October 12, 2016: 300.0

The Norwegian Index fell 6.8 points from last week, which is quite surprising given that 25% of the calculation is derived from BOS-OSL, whose last remaining departure dates of the season are extremely close (and, thus, are more expensive). However, with Norwegian scheduled to restart BOS-CPH and BOS-OSL services again next spring after a successful first year, I’m curious to see what kind of prices will be offered for those routes.

British Airways lowered the price on its BOS-LHR route to $503, which is barely believable as – in the past year – BOS-LHR has hovered anywhere between $800 and $1,000. Though I’m sure that low fuel prices have something to do with it, I would also imagine that the pound falling 18% against the dollar since Britain’s vote to leave the European Union probably has something to do with it. I had expected flights to LHR to cheapen following Brexit, and while prices stayed consistently high for a month or two, it seems that they are falling now. Perhaps the effects of Brexit on airfares took longer to set in than we thought. I can’t say I agree with Britain’s decision, but I’m certainly not complaining as an American traveler!

Even so, I think there was something even more noteworthy that happened  this week: American Airlines’ willingness to sell JFK-CDG for $433 round trip. Of course, Norwegian Air Shuttle has sold flights on that route for less than $400, but the fact that a legacy carrier is putting forth such a price on a traditionally expensive and competitive route is unbelievable. Again, I think it’s still too early to tell if this is an aberration or the start of a new trend, but maybe the collateral impacts of Brexit have been more than anticipated.

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

Boston – Lisbon

Leave on:

  • January 26, 2017
  • February 2, 2017
  • March 16, 2017

Carrier: TAP Portugal
Price: $576

Thoughts: While only available on a narrow range of dates, this is the lowest that I’ve seen TAP’s BOS-LIS flights go for.

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: Even with the lowering of fares on British Airways’ BOS-LHR route, Norwegian is still going to fight for the Boston to London marketshare. And while Norwegian and its BOS-LGW route – in all likelihood – won’t have the same demand or resources as its BOS-LHR counterparts, it’ll certainly attract people with its low fares.

Boston – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • November 9-16, 21-26, 28-30
  • December 1-9, 12, 13, 18, 19, 27, 31
  • January (2017) 1, 2, 5-31
  • February (2017) 1, 2, 6-28
  • March (2017) 1-24

Carrier: British Airways
Price: $503

Thoughts: Could it break the $500 mark? I personally would bet against it, as I could never have fathomed BOS-LHR flights going that low, but I hope I’m wrong!

Boston – Munich

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 11-31
  • February (2017) 1, 2, 4-15, 21-24, 26-28
  • March (2017) 1-3, 6-9, 13-18, 24, 25, 31

Carrier: Lufthansa
Price: $490

Thoughts: Good deal? Absolutely. New normal? Probably not.

Boston – Oslo

Leave on: October 21 (return October 29)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $321

Thoughts: This is a great use of your money (if you’ve got nothing to do for a week starting next Friday).

NEW YORK

New York JFK and Newark – Amsterdam

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 11-31
  • Any date in February
  • Any date in March

Carriers: Delta Air Lines (JFK), KLM (JFK), United Airlines (EWR)
Price: $439

Thoughts: Now the entire month of March is available for $439. Still don’t get it.

New York JFK – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • April (2017) 1-12, 14, 15, 17-30
  • May (2017) 1-10

Carriers: Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic Airways
Price: $519

Thoughts: No big deal – DL and VS just went ahead and took $73 off of last week’s fare.

New York JFK – Oslo

Leave on:

  • February (2017) 5, 7

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $281

Thoughts: It’s a small range of dates, and it might not be the preferable time of year given the destination, but it’s also cheaper than you’d probably find a flight to the West Coast for.

New York JFK – Paris

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 11-28, 30, 31
  • February (2017) 1-3, 5-17, 20-28
  • March (2017) 5, 6, 8, 9, 14-16, 22, 29

Carrier: American Airlines
Price: $433

Thoughts: Norwegian has put forth some impressive prices on JFK-CDG, but the fact that American is selling a direct transatlantic flight for $433 round trip is insane. Maybe the increased level of competition is finally starting to show?

New York JFK – Stockholm

Leave on:

  • February (2017) 1, 3, 6, 8

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $274

Thoughts: The statement immediately preceding this one applies here as well.

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.