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British Airways to end nonstop service to London

Tuesday, August 10, 1999

By Steve Massey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Pittsburgh will lose its only nonstop link to London this fall, when British Airways eliminates daily jet service from Pittsburgh International to Gatwick Airport on Oct. 31.

    Getting refunds

British Airways customers who have booked flights from Pittsburgh to London after Oct. 30 can receive full refunds from the airline or flights on alternative British Air service. For more information, contact British Air reservations at (800) 247-9297.


The move comes as the British carrier said yesterday it is paring money-losing routes and capacity because of a trans-Atlantic fare war that slashed its operating profits by 46 percent for the quarter ended June 30.

British Air would not outright say it was losing money on its Pittsburgh-London flight, but a spokeswoman said the announcement speaks for itself. The airline's exodus will end British Air's 14-year relationship with Pittsburgh, where it launched nonstop London service in 1985.

US Airways hopes to fill the void, but Pittsburgh travelers shouldn't hold their breath.

Under an existing aviation treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom, control of the Pittsburgh-London route that British Air flies will remain in the hands of the British government. The government so far has exhibited little inclination to go against the wishes of that country's major airline, and British Air has made clear that it doesn't want to give U.S. carriers any additional access to London.

Indeed, a proposed mega-alliance joining British Air with American Airlines, the second-largest U.S. carrier, broke apart last month primarily because British Air didn't want to cede any landing slots at London's Heathrow Airport to U.S. carriers.

US Airways has a pending application to serve Heathrow from Pittsburgh, and last March it filed an application with the U.S. Transportation Department for daily nonstops from Pittsburgh to London's smaller Gatwick Airport unless and until a Heathrow slot opened up.

Yesterday, US Airways sought to use British Air's announcement to ramp up the pressure on U.S. aviation authorities.

In a prepared statement, it noted that "US Airways has long sought to serve the Pittsburgh-London route. Now that U.S. government must turn its attention immediately to ensuring that Pittsburgh is not denied service to London."

For its part, British Air said it may seek to shift authority for the Pittsburgh-London route to another U.S. market.

It also said it could seek to restart daily Pittsburgh service if demand picks up, but observers believe that's unlikely to happen anytime soon. The route had been a money-maker for British Air earlier this decade, when it had an alliance with was then USAir.

But new Chairman Stephen Wolf killed that alliance, saying it was a bad deal for USAir. As a result, British Air lost feeder traffic generated by its partner.

The loss of daily nonstops to London represents a step back for Pittsburgh International Airport following several encouraging developments.

In addition to filing applications for nonstops to London, US Airways under Wolf also transformed the airline's Frankfurt service a year-round affair -- it had been seasonal before -- and launched daily nonstops to Paris.

Now London travelers will have to settle for connecting flights, including US Airways flights to London from Philadelphia and Charlotte.

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