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.