British Airways’ expects its new long-haul business-class service between London-New York to be profitable…should travel affiliates assume the same?  That’s a question that  many airline travel affiliates on either side of ‘The Pond’ are asking today as British Airways (BA) operated the inaugural flight of  its controversial premium service.

BA’s twice daily service (except Saturdays) between London City Airport and New York-JFK, which will utilize new Airbus A318s with re-configured cabins that hold only 32 fully flat-bed seats, comes at a pivotal time for the airline.  Not only is the new service ‘flying’ in the face of the worst recession in memory, it also comes on the heels of an unprecedented 12-month decline in bookings for the airline; for example, BA’s premium traffic fell 12% between April – June this year alone, and resulted in a corresponding £106m (approximately $170 m) operating loss for Europe’s third largest carrier.

If these challenges weren’t enough, BA must also overcome historical industry baggage: within the past 24 months, three other airlines (Max Jet, Eos and Silverjet) failed in their attempts to build a sustainable standalone business that offered a similar premium product. However, none of these carriers operated out of London City Airport, which is why BA’s senior executives believe that their service – which is aimed squarely at the bankers and financial executives in the nearby Canary Wharf complex and London’s main financial district five miles away – will be a winner.

BA’s CEO Willie Walsh told Bloomberg Television this morning before hopping on the inaugural flight to JFK that “We believe there is a big demand for this service,” and that the flights will attract business flyers who now travel from London Heathrow Airport, Europe’s busiest airport, as well as siphon-off some private jet customers.

To underscore that their new product is ‘premium’ not only in service and price, BA has assigned their most prestigious flight numbers, BA001 to BA004, formerly used by Concorde, the now-mothballed supersonic airliner.  And, to overcome an obviously glaring operational issue (whereby the short runways at London City require all westbound A-318s to depart without a full fuel load and therefore necessitating they stop to refuel in Shannon, Ireland), passengers will be able to clear U.S. customs there rather than go through the hassles at Kennedy immigration and passport control.  As any traveler (US or foreigner) that’s ever obliged to clear customs at JFK knows, that’s a ordeal one would like to avoid if at all possible.

This, coupled with the fact that London City allows travelers to check-in up to 15 minutes before the flight (rather than the hour plus one needs for a similar check-in at Heathrow), for travelers leaving from the Canary Wharf area of London, makes the £4,000 ($6,000) plus-per-ticket cost between London and New York seem ‘reasonable’ by banker logic.

It is also important to note that BA is offering terrific introductory rates to promote their new service: currently, prices start at about £1,900 pounds ($3,000) for a round- trip ticket, which frankly is less than a full-fare economy seat on BA’s other scheduled flights between New York and London.

All of which leads TravelDividends to conclude that travel affiliates who participate in British Airway’s travel affiliate program could, like BA, potentially profit from this new service, whether the travel affiliate is located in the U.S. or the UK (BA offers a travel affiliate program in both countries).  This revenue producing opportunity is particularly true for those travel affiliates that number bankers, lawyers and other professionals among their clientele.

What do you think?  Does BA’s new service represent an opportunity for you? If you haven’t signed up for BA’s travel affiliate program, is now the right time to do so?  Drop us an email and let us know…we’re always interested in hearing from our travel affiliate readership.

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