Air France’s LAX-London Open Skies Experiment Ends

Air France, Schedule Changes

Delta put out a press release last week entitled “Delta to Offer 180-Degree Full Flat Beds to Heathrow From New York and Atlanta.” Sounds thrilling right? Not so much. But buried in that release was a little note that says “Air France has announced that it intends to discontinue Air France Ends LAX LHRservice between Los Angeles and Heathrow as it adds the new nonstop Heathrow flight from New York.”

Very interesting. So the first true Open Skies experiment, where one European airline flew from another European country to the US, has ended in failure. Is anyone really surprised?

This route was questionable from the beginning but it was doomed within a few months. When Air France first announced it would fly the route, I was surprised. You can already fly nonstop from LAX to London on BA, Virgin Atlantic, United, American, and even Air New Zealand. So was there really a need for yet another flight?

Probably not, but there wasn’t a SkyTeam presence on the route, and Delta was in the midst of building up its LA hub operation. So, Air France must have thought it was worth a shot. Apparently, they were wrong.

I would be surprised if the route ever looked good, but once Delta dismantled its hub operation in LA, that had to be the death knell. Without any Delta feed, I can’t imagine this one had a shot. Now Air France will instead fly one flight a day from New York to London to complement Delta’s two flights. What’s the point? They want a piece of the rapidly shrinking financial services business? This seems like somewhat of a waste of a 777 to me, but maybe they’ll find a way to make this one work better than they did in LA.

Something tells me that Air France shouldn’t be focusing on London, but that’s for them to figure out.

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22 comments on “Air France’s LAX-London Open Skies Experiment Ends

  1. I agree CF it was a crazy move in the first place. Just checked, AF has some bargain basement prices for the last few flights!

    I think there is also going to be a ton of capacity in the LHR-JFK market very soon. I wonder if BA will re-think its LCY launch?

  2. It is key to remember the DL-AF joint venture. JFK-LHR 3rd daily is something DL probably very much wanted to be more competitive in the market. Delta’s flying a 757 Lyon-NYC for AF right now since AF doesn’t have any small that can cover the distance, so its a wash.

  3. Daren S – Good question about the London/City service. With the tanking of the banking world, that might change the demand for that service significantly.

    Dave S – I did mention that in the post, and I agree that 3x daily combined with Delta makes it a lot more interesting but it’s still not interesting enough. Delta could also have just put a 757 on the route for a third trip and that would likely be a better match for demand. But, that’s Air France’s slot at Heathrow and they seem to be very interested in making it work to the US.

  4. I’m not sure that one can call Openskies a real failure. Provided the threat of one airline flying from another country (e.g. that of AF flying from LHR) is credible, it will ensure that airlines keep standards higher and fares lower.

    In any case, AF is pretty much obliged to have some sort of action in response to BA setting up at Paris. This could be basing a 777 at LHR, or it could be lowering Paris-NYC fares to make life difficult for BA. If AF do neither, they are handing a prize over to BA.

    The LHR-JFK route still has a lot of passengers, and with a Delta hub at JFK, Air France should be able to make some money out of this. After all, BA are (or were) planning on flying from Amsterdam to NY. The only question is whether they could make more money by deploying a 777 on some other route out of Paris instead.

  5. David – I didn’t mean for the post to be interpreted that way. I meant that the first attempt and using open skies has ended in failure; not that the entire concept was a failure. Sorry I wasn’t more clear.

    I do get what you say about it being a competitive response, but I don’t think this is going to change a thing for BA. One flight on JFK LHR is hardly going to get them to change their strategy with OpenSkies (the airline). JFK-LHR is a very crowded market. If I were AF, I’d focus on markets that I could have a decent shot at making succeed. I mean, they already have long range Airbus narrowbodies – they should have beat BA to the punch on the London/City service long ago.

  6. I think there’s a rumour about BA postponing LCY-JFK, but that might be a capacity issue (apparently A320s are needed urgently at LHR and Airbus narrowbody delivery slots can be swapped)

    An extra 2×32 premium seats ex-LCY will be a drop in the ocean compared to the sea of ex-LHR flights, and should easily be filled by BA’s corporate contracts with the (remaining) banks in Canary Wharf (e.g. Lehmans might have gone, but Barclays has picked up Lehman’s US business)

    The question is who will lose out ex-LHR if 64 seats are going to LCY and overall banking demand is down by [x]%. BA, AA and (to a lesser extent) VS have tied up all the high rolling corporate contracts out of London, while AF and DL have never been successful with corporate deals in the UK. So my betting is that the AF move may be more of a last ditch attempt at shoring up both DL and AF’s position on LHR-JFK. I don’t rate their chances though…

  7. Two to three years ago I noticed that my corporate (domestic) travel was starting to be cut back here and there. Then we started to hear about all the domestic overcapacity and planned reductions. I wonder why?

    My guess is corporate international travel has been/is being cut and we’ll soon hear of more international capacity reductions in all markets. Bad timing for Air France, but wouldn’t necessarily call it Delta’s fault. If there were demand I’m sure the flight would stick, Delta or not.

  8. “I think there is also going to be a ton of capacity in the LHR-JFK market very soon. I wonder if BA will re-think its LCY launch?”


    BA entering LCY with mainline aircraft would be risky, unless the aircraft was an A318, stripped out with business class seating only and no cargo. As LCY has demanding requirements for aircraft to allowed to operate from the airport, and I don’t believe the A319 can operate on the airports steep approach.

    I believe the maximum range of the A318 is 3,240 miles, while the JFK-LCY flight would be 3,472 miles. I know extra range can be accommodated with fewer passengers and no cargo to make the aircraft lighter, but is this route worth it? I would see this route as being operated by PrivatAir , like they for for LX and LH.

    Just my thoughts

    Steven Frischling
    The Travel Strategist

  9. “So the first true Open Skies experiment, where one European airline flew from another European country to the US, has ended in failure.”

    Look at BA’s ‘Open Skies’ (the airline, not the agreement). ‘Open Skies’ while operated by BA is not technically a British Airline, it is an EU airline. The airline’s routes are between New York-to-Amsterdam/Paris. The airline does not operate to, or through the UK.

    I would say so far this airline is an interesting experiment of Open Skies and it appears to be doing quite well.

    Other airlines operate under the 7th freedom and 5th freedom agreements and are successful at it. Look at Air New Zealand’s LAX-LHR route. The flight is popular and competitive.

    Air France was competitive and could have been a success, but it had no feeder traffic. SkyTeam was not moving passengers into LAX to connect back out to LHR on the route.

    Give the chance to fly DL or AF between JFK and LHR, I’d choose AF.

    ……the real question is, why aren’t more airlines looking at Stanstead and Luton? Both airports are far quieter than Heathrow, and if pushed with some creative marketing could reduce some costs for airlines and push business travelers to use somewhat more convenient airports.

    Steven Frischling
    The Travel Strategist

  10. Cranky,

    I had read about BA entering the JFK-LCY route a few times in the past, but is it really in the airlines best interest?

    It would require BA to have a sub-fleet of A318 aircraft for one route. The route would be better served by outsourcing the route to a carrier such as PrivatAir that specializing in these types of routes.

    Additionally, with the Heathrow Express putting passengers into Central London in 15 minutes, is there a real advantage to LCY? These passengers would be premium business class flyers. A business class flyer gets to fast-track Immigrations at LHR, as well as use a dedicated security check point (I assume T5 has this in place as well, I have not been through T5)

    The costs of this flight would have to be more expensive than a business class seat to LHR. With business scaling back business travel expenses,and the overall costs of operations rising… this the time to create a single route sub-fleet for a client base that is shrinking and may just stick with what is already cost effective for them?

    Just an opinion

    Steven Frischling
    The Travel Strategist

  11. CF – what a sad ending to a flight I had the privledge to fly a half dozen times since it started. The service on AF was always excellent (no surprise there). The Business cabin was consistently at 80%+, so I am a bit surprised. But let’s face it — AF knows where the profit is and apparently it wasn’t with LAX-LHR.

    Au revoir AF…………….

  12. Steven – the main terminal at Luton is geared very much towards budget airlines. It’s functional, but no more than that – it could hardly be called luxurious. When Silverjet were still flying, they had their own separate mini-terminal.

    Stansted is more plausible for network carriers although it’s the main no-frills airport for London. American used to fly there last year – mainly as a spoiler against Eos. Now Eos is no more, AA have reverted to just LHR. A non-aligned network carrier might be interested in STN – but I very much doubt an airline within an alliance would consider it for the long term.

  13. David,

    The draw to Luton would be the separate terminal which can be geared towards a business class only flight. While there is a heavy emphasis on low cost carriers, I think SilverJet had a concept that was far enough outside the box that it could become a popular business concept.

    Both Luton and Stansted have more flexibility in terms of flight times, without having to jockey for, or pay for, slot assignments. The costs of doing business out of either Luton or Stanstead are more affordable than Heathrow and Gatwick.

    While the Heathrow Express is 15 minutes to London and the Standsted Express is 46 minutes, the time you save by flying through Standsted over Heathrow is significant. The Immigrations lines at LHR are considerably longer than that at Stansted.

    Yes, everyone wants to fly through Heathrow. I love Heathrow, however it is not an efficient airport. An airline looking to lower its over all cost of doing business, while transporting premium business flyers might want to make a push and see the options outside LHR.

    LCY is a good idea for business only flyers, but what about the significant number of business passengers who fly economy? With budget cuts some business are really clamping down on paying for business class. I know of two companies that just changed their rules to only allow for a business class seat on flights over 10 hours. This puts their business flyers coming out of New York and DC in economy now when flying to Moscow and San Francisco flyers in economy when flying to Tokyo (the return flight is 9hrs 45min)

    By offering a smaller easier to navigate airport that has less hassles that Heathrow, Stansted is an excellent choice to attract business flyers in Business and Economy class with a much lower cost of doing business than a limited JFK-LCY route.

    This is just how I see it.

    Steven Frischling
    The Travel Strategist

  14. Steven – While PrivatAir may be a nice option, they don’t fly any A318s and those are the only narrowbodies that are allowed to fly to London/City that could actually make the trip. (I don’t think anyone will be flying a BAe 146 across the Pond.) So, this is probably their only realistic option.

    This isn’t competing for passengers heading into central London. This is for the banking people who are heading to Canary Wharf which is much further from Heathrow and right next to City.

  15. LCY has the huge advantage of being only 20 minutes door-to-door taxi ride away from London’s main financial centre in Canary Wharf. If budget cuts are really that severe, you can get the subway from Canary Wharf to LCY in 20 mins. The other traditional financial centre around Broadgate also takes 20 mins by subway to LCY. In addition, check-in at LCY for all flights is just 15 mins.

    The 15 mins by train to Heathrow is a slight misnomer – as far as companies go, Paddington is too far west to be called central London. To get from the office districts of central London to LHR takes at least 45 mins. From Canary Wharf, it’s over an hour.

    As for US-bound flights, while the plane to JFK is refuelling at SNN (LCY has a short runway, but SNN has a full length runway), you can pre-clear US customs by virtue of it being an Irish airport. The likes of AF and LH are already heavy users of LCY for European business+economy flights.

    For most traditional carriers already established at LHR to move to STN or LTN, the network effect from feeder traffic means it would require an entire alliance to decamp from LHR before it happens – shown in NorthWest, USAir, Continental and Delta all choosing to pay big $$$ to move from Gatwick to LHR when Openskies came about. Gatwick is a more comfortable airport than STN but is full and cannot be expanded until 2019.

  16. Wonder whether United is secretly patting itself on the back for pulling out of LHR-JFK, to avoid this particular bunfight?

  17. Steven

    When the economy picks up, I can see trans-atlantics returning to STN. It’s close to “silicon fen”, the booming area around (the University of) Cambridge. But at the moment I don’t think that market justifies any flights, and the trip into London is a bit too slow – although the trains do go into the City financial district rather than Paddington. Immigration queues are not at all shorter than LHR though, and the airport is now notorious for baggage delays. So I don’t think it’s any quicker than LHR to/from central London.

    LTN will never work. The rail connection is ok but not integrated into the airport, and the traffic is quite sticky around there. It’s definitely budget airline territory.

    So I would argue that they are not more convenient airports for a majority of people.

    LCY-JFK certainly has legs – I mentioned it to someone I know who is on the board of a few companies and who lives in Cambridge & Victoria and she cannot wait. I would guess that over half of London can get to an LCY gate quicker than to one at LHR, even with the wide open spaces of T5. Indeed, given that AF have their franchisee bringing in a lot of flights to LCY already, it really makes me wonder why they haven’t tried to beat BA to the launch on this route.

    Anyway – does anyone know when LHR-LAX ends on AF?

  18. Simon,

    Looks like AF’s LAX-LHR should stop on the 6th of November.

    ……..I think JFK-LCY obviously has legs, BA wants it. However the cost of is quite high. I believe an all business class A318 should hold approximately 36 passengers, obviously this depends on the configuration, but can a route that flies at max 36 passengers be sustained?

    Yes, LX and LH operate 738 aircraft from NYC to ZRH and MUC (I have flown the EWR-ZRH route), however the banking business between ZRH and MUC is different than London. London is a major financial hub, but not in the same way ZRH and MUC are (and no I am not looking to start a debate on financial hubs).

    I deal with business on a regular basis that are seeking every trick they can come up with to place their business travelers in locations around the world, while also seeking to shave a few hundred dollars or more off their travel expenses.

    If JFK-LCY in J is priced the same as JFK/EWR to LHR they have a shot. If the price is $1000+ more they will have problems.

    The stop in SNN may also be seen as an annoyance. No one wants to take a layover just to make their experience at immigrations easier. It is in BA’s interest to simply try and create a fast-track at JFK (not in place yet,but I am sure it is possible).

    Happy Flying!

    Steven Frischling
    The Travel Strategist

  19. I actually flew this flight – can’t say I was thrilled with it. The service was very “French” and I’d much prefer BA or Virgin if given the opportunity. (Truth be told, the only reason I booked it was because they offered a cheap fare. One that even Delta didn’t match for flying on the exact same day, and flight just as a “code share”.)

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