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Inside Air India’s London Gatwick plans

Air India has announced that it will begin flying to London Gatwick Airport. This decision comes as the airline is prioritising London Heathrow operations for flights from just two Indian cities while also increasing nonstop flights to the London area.

London Gatwick launch

Starting 26th March 2023, Air India will operate three-flights-a-week to London Gatwick Airport from the following Indian airports:

  • Ahmedabad’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport
  • Goa International Airport
  • Kochi International Airport
  • Amritsar’s Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport

The flights will operate with the following timings:

Photo: Air India

With this, Air India will be the only airline offering nonstop flights between India and London Gatwick, United Kingdom’s second largest airport.

Air India says that passengers’ convenience will not be impacted as Gatwick provides passengers with direct access to the UK’s motorway network which will facilitate the convenience of travel by car or coach to London and South-East England. Moreover, with 24*7 direct rail access from the South Terminal, passengers can reach Central London in less than half an hour.

On the same day (26th March 2023), the airline will launch an additional 5-weekly flights to London Heathrow Airport – 3 from Delhi and 2 from Mumbai. As a result, flights from Delhi will increase from 14- to 17-weekly while flights from Mumbai will increase from 12- to 14-weekly flights.

London Heathrow flights will operate with the following schedule:

Photo: Air India

All of these flights will be operated by Boeing B787-8 Dreamliners featuring Business Class and Economy Class.

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London schedule secured

It is now clear that Air India wants to keep its London Heathrow slots just for the two most important Indian cities – Delhi and Mumbai. The Tata Group-owned has 31 pairs of slots at Heathrow out of which it will use 17 pairs for Delhi and 14 pairs for Mumbai.

It’s good on the part of Air India that it is not splitting operations between Heathrow and Gatwick for its Delhi and Mumbai flights but keeping them just at Heathrow by moving all the flights from other cities to Gatwick. This also helps in improving the passenger experience as the passengers will have a surety that their flight to/from Delhi and Mumbai will go to/from Heathrow only.

As part of its transformation plan ‘Vihaan.AI’, Air India is increasing trying to increase its international presence. First, it grew presence in San Francisco by introducing flights from Mumbai and resuming flights from Bengaluru. Then, it announced flights from Mumbai to New York JFK. Next, it unveiled that the European cities of Milan, Vienna and Copenhagen will once again receive Air India service. The airline will also operate flights from Mumbai to Frankfurt and Paris.

With the expanded London service, it seems that it wants to gain back the traffic it has lost to the Middle Eastern carriers in the last decade or so. Air India is surely making efforts to expand its international presence but until the inflight hard and soft products improve, the airline will have a tough time gaining the trust and loyalty of passengers. But the expansion is a step in the right direction as the airline is also in the process of improving passenger experience at all the touchpoints.

Meanwhile, Air India recently launched “FogCare” initiative to minimise flight disruptions due to fog.

Featured image by Wikimedia Commons

What do you think of Air India expanding its presence in London by launching Gatwick operations? Let me know in the comments section below.

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One reply on “Inside Air India’s London Gatwick plans”

If Air India really wants to not only catch up with but also beat Emirates at its own game, it has to position itself as an alternative global super connector to Emirates, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines (the existing three global super connectors. In the context of the London and southeast England market, this means it has to start flying from its envisaged multiple global hubs in India – one of which will be in South India according to Air India CEO Campbell Wilson (in my opinion most likely Bengaluru) – to multiple airports in the London area, by far the world’s biggest international air travel market, just like Emirates, and not as a route split but as simultaneous operations (like Emirates Gatwick-Dubai and Stansted-Dubai flights replicate the timings of its Heathrow-Dubai flights, albeit at a lower frequency, i.e. thrice daily and twice daily, respectively, instead of six times daily). Also, as Air India now already runs a second London station at Gatwick, the more it can grow its operations there, the more it will help it spread overheads over a greater level of activity and thus ultimately help boost its profitability there. So, if Air India wants to go down the global super connector route, we are likely to see the addition of multiple daily direct (non-stop) flights from Gatwick and possibly Stansted to Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru which will shadow the timings of the Heathrow flights as well. Where Heathrow and Gatwick (as well as potentially Stansted) will continue to be different is in aircraft configurations (and probably aircraft types as well), with Heathrow flights predominantly using bigger aircraft with a higher share of premium seats, such as Air India’s existing Boeing 777-300ERs and its incoming 777-9s and, conversely, Gatwick (and Stansted?) flights either exclusively using the existing 787-8s or a mix of existing 787-8s and incoming -9s with a lower share of premium seats (just like the A380s Emirates use on their Gatwick flights have fewer premium seats compared with the A380s they use on their Heathrow flights).

And now that Vistara is going to be integrated into Air India’s mainline operation, once this is complete, Air India can also repurpose Vistara’s 12 weekly Heathrow slot pairs – seven of which Vistara currently uses for a daily Heathrow-Delhi service (with the remaining five being used for a brand-new Heathrow-Mumbai service) – to relaunch Heathrow-Bengaluru and Heathrow-Hyderabad, keeping the current respective daily and five-weekly frequencies of Vistara’s Heathrow-Delhi and Heathrow-Mumbai services as the timings of these slots are very similar to the timings of Air India’s current Heathrow-Delhi and Heathrow-Mumbai services, with Vistara’s premium-heavy 787-9s being a good fit for both Heathrow-Bengaluru and Heathrow-Hyderabad, with Bengaluru also lending itself to a possible subsequent upgrade to a 777-300ER / -9, especially if it were to become Air India’s southern global hub.

To make such a super connector hub strategy work as well as Emirates, Air India, in the context of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, Air India would need to restore service to Manchester at its earliest opportunity while beginning service to Edinburgh and Dublin as well as soon as practicable.

And, last but not least, as the icing on the cake, Air India could also find a use for the A321XLR on its UK operations were it to launch an all super de luxe, all premium, private jet style service seating between 75 and 100 (or possibly even fewer) passengers, initially on London-Delhi at a frequency of one service per day, using one of Luton’s two existing private jet terminals as the London departure and arrival point. If this proves to be a commercial success, Air India could double its Luton-Delhi A321XLR frequency and, range in an ultra-low density configuration permitting, extend this type of service to both Mumbai and Bengaluru, at which point Air India could run its own exclusive private jet terminal at Luton. Why Luton and not Heathrow or London City? Because Luton (like Heathrow) is on the “right” side of London for premium travel and its location as well as its proximity to the M1, the UK’s main north-south road artery, puts itcwithin easy reach of both wealthy northwest London suburbs like Golders Green and Swiss Cottage as well as the Midlands, incl. the UK’s biggest “New Town”, Milton Keynes (now elevated after having been given city ststus). Besides, Heathrow is far too busy, cramped and crowded to provide such a service and London City’s runway is far too short to enable an A321XLR to land and to take off from there, and neither is there any other aircraft type that could fly non-stop with a viable payload between London City and Delhi, let alone between London City and Mumbai and London City and Bengaluru, respectively.

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