a plane flying above the clouds

Is British Airways about to announce long haul service from Manchester?

When Thomas Cook folded, Manchester, and virtually all UK travellers outside of London were left with a huge void. The UK is far more than just London, despite virtually all long haul flights departing from the Southeastern capital and without Thomas Cook, many travellers were left without viable options.

Virgin Atlantic immediately picked up where the defunct airline left off, bringing long haul route expansion, and announcing brand new Clubhouse and Vroom Lounges, which are currently under construction. All the commotion left many wondering where British Airways was during it all. Were they not interested in flying out of Manchester and serving the North, instead just focusing on the Heathrow fortress?

a boat in the waterAccording to a source which is yet to be incorrect, a strong rumour is floating around that British Airways will indeed launch long haul flights from Manchester, but in a bit of a biting blow – the rumour is that the only reason they are doing so, is because they don’t want Virgin to look good…

Oneworld, the airline alliance British Airways takes part in, already flies long haul out of Manchester, albeit, not with a single British Airways jet. American Airlines operates a Manchester to Philadelphia flight utilising a Boeing 787, and both Qatar Airways and Cathay Pacific are regular features as well. Britain’s flag carrier doesn’t have any long haul service out of the second largest flying base in the country.

a city with tall buildings and a body of waterThomas Cook, TUI and leisure market airlines dominated the Manchester scene, but in recent years, Qatar, Emirates and other leading legacy airlines moved in and won great favour, removing hassle from connecting passenger journeys. Despite it all, British Airways never budged. That is, until Virgin Atlantic started investing heavily in Manchester over the last year.

Virgin Atlantic is set to add 43,000 seats to its summer schedule out of Manchester, after adding over 30,000 seats to its winter flying. More seats means more competitive fares for travellers, and it also often brings better seats, aircraft and facilities.

With a new Clubhouse Lounge set to open in summer 2020, Virgin Atlantic clearly means business. Executive Vice President of Commercial, Juha Jarvinen, calls Manchester Virgin Atlantic’s “home in the north”.

a close-up of a planeTo counter, British Airways is apparently in the process of launching long haul services featuring the Boeing 787. Qatar Airways currently flies a mix of A350, Boeing 777 and Boeing 787, while Cathay flies an Airbus A350.

The 787 is a great aircraft to launch new service with, since it’s both fuel efficient and small enough to decrease pressure on filling seats. As of now, timing is still a mystery, but as noted, the source of this rumour is yet to be wrong in many years of appreciated tip offs.

Whether it’s too little too late from BA, or just in the nick of time, airlines battling it out is great news for consumers, and Manchester should look ahead to a golden year of flying. Expect more direct long haul flights than ever, at prices lower than usual, thanks to the competition.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Although I like flying with BA in their premium cabins, Manchester is my local long haul airport and it’s been refreshing to see the growing hub VS is building, especially with the integration of BE under Virgin Connect. BA abandoned MAN in the 2000s believing there’s no local demand that can’t be sent via LHR and/or not wanting to compete. VS, TCX along with QR, CX, SQ, EK have proved otherwise, and now there’s also direct services to mainland China on HU. I’ve recently taken VS, EK, SQ and QR from Manchester; I doubt there’s room for meaningful long-haul BA ops now since these carriers – along with UA, DL, EY, TK, KL, AF, ET etc – cover most options very well. The biggest gap, I believe, is direct services to Delhi and Mumbai. With the loss of Jet’s BOM service that’s one service BA could go for, but would lack partner feed at both ends. VS, on the other hand, has DL and BE feed at MAN. At most, BA could try JFK and/or LAX: they’ve served them in the past and would be working with AA. One final option could BA be taking over the AA PHL service, since AA seem intent in running it into the ground, maybe also reopening ORD and MIA. BA gets feed; AA shares revenue under the JV; passengers get a better level of hard & soft service, e.g. BA 788 over dilapidated AA 763. Other option, use the LGW BA 772 based fleet in W patterns that are less premium seat heavy then their LHR counterparts.

    For me, if BA aren’t serious and just want to stifle a northern hub with growing VS/DL services then MAG should be wary. BA should stick to fortress LHR and their leisure hub at LGW, feeding LHR as they do now, working better with their OW and JV partners (AA/IB/AY & QR) to cater for the BA/OW long-haul crowd out of MAN.

    Wishing VS and MAN well for the future.

  2. I can’t believe there’s no market for direct flights to MIA, BOS, IAD and other US destinations, from MAN. Additionally, previous direct routes which have been discontinued but still attract large numers of tourists include NAS and MLE. Avoiding the sheer aggravation of having to transit through LHR would be a godsend for many northern travellers.

  3. Here’s an alternative: Considering the additional flights BA has now out of LGW in addition to the established holiday routes LHR doesn’t have (TPA, MCO etc.) – if they’re not interested in long-haul from MAN – just reinstate MAN-LGW as a regular A321/320 that gets in before all the 10:00-12:00 LGW long haul departures. It still confuses the life out of me why they ditched that route given it was pretty much packed.

  4. Saying that Qatar, Emirates, Cathay etc take the hassle out of connecting is misleading. These carriers are all still offering connections via their hubs, no different to going via Heathrow. Yes, there will be some going to Dubai, Doha and Hong Kong as destinations but Virgin is the one which is mainly aimed at point to point.

  5. I wouldn’t hold your breath. It’s wouldn’t be the first time BA have flexed their muscles and not delivered on their promises. While I love BA and the sight of a very British tail no matter where you are in the work they are very much a Heathrow/Gatwick and unfortunately with the currently structure a proper long haul launch from the north seems a little too far from their grasps. Unfortunately I don’t believe they will become a proper contender in the Manchester long haul market

  6. Stuff BA deserted Man years ago , Man owes BA nothing.Remember the days when the use to fly NY Montreal And Toronto with VC10s and 707s.stuff BA I wouldn’t give them the dirt from under my finger nails. Thanks Delta , AA as a Brit my loyalty
    Lies with you.Peter

  7. This is highly unlikely. All long haul legacy carriers flying out of Manchester are feeding their hubs at the other end of route. Manchester is most definitely a “spoke” not a hub. There is just not enough premium demand to warrant a full service carrier opening a base there. The only carriers who are based in Manchester and fly long haul routes are picking up low yield point to point leisure customers. Virgin Atlantic can’t even make money at the top of the cycle and Thomas Cook went bust… so why on earth would BA start long haul flights out of Manchester?

  8. Sadly American Airlines aren’t using their shiny new 787s on the Manchester-Philadelphia route at the moment – they’re using their very old and tired 767s with almost no IFE. My wife flew it last week, and we’re all doing it in a couple of weeks. 🙁

  9. BA pulled out of the regions 15 years ago, both long and short haul. The only service they operate from MAN is to feed their long haul hub at LHR, the same is true at other airports in the north and Scotland. As others have mentioned above I can’t see BA mainline offering long haul from MAN or any other U.K. airport outside London, there just are not enough passengers willing to pay for the premium product that the BA model needs. However I could see them using Level which is IAGs low cost leisure orientated airline. Level offer several destinations of this type from Barcelona which could work from Manchester and other large regional airports in the U.K.

  10. No way I want this tin pot airline flying out of my local airport , do one BA I remember when you did fly long haul from Manchester and your load factors were really good then guess what you stopped, instead flying us down to that so called great congested airport called heathrow or gatwick so no thanks we’ll be ok

  11. BA the worst airline in the world, appalling service, I’ve never had a good flight with them. Even in the premium cabins. Avoid them, fly a far better airline.

  12. @Jonny… but VS are doing exactly what you say isn’t happening: they’ve already got a base serving ATL, JFK, LAS, LAX, MCO, BOS (DL codeshare-JV) and BGI; VS is expanding it with more frequencies and new routes; opening a new Clubhouse in T2 (for those insufficient numbers of premium customer you suggest) and will have a growing hub operation with domestic and euro SH feed from Virgin Connect (aka BE).

    Flew very recently MSY-ATL-MAN: upper class and premium+ were 90% full, as was Y on a VS 744. There were passengers connecting at MAN on to Paris with AF and domestic with BE. The full service carrier hub has already landed at MAN: courtesy of VS and its partners DL/AF/KL/BE.

    BA have missed that boat. BA should instead focus on working with the AA and QR joint ventures to serve Manchester better without the need for BA metal.

  13. I think there is a void for direct flights into Eastern Canada- Vancouver/Calgary. Air Transat would be their main competition as Air Canada is Air Rouge which is another budget airline type.
    BA need to prove they are a British and not London airline

  14. Wasnt there a story during 2019 that manchester might be getting their own American immigration check point, like Dublin already has, and this would be a game changer.
    Direct flights to New York with immigration before leaving..
    This means you are straight off the plane at the other end.
    This will save hours when comparing the total time going via London.

  15. I’m currently on the MAN-PHL you speak of somewhere over the Atlantic and we are certainly not on a 787, we are on a 767. Does AA even fly 787s out of PHL?

  16. An interesting development.

    Although the point is made that other OneWorld airlines serve MAN with longhaul flights whereas BA does not, in truth BA does exactly what AA/QR/CX do out of MAN….feed their hubs.

    A lot of people ask whether MAN could be profitable for BA noting that VS operates longhaul ex MAN at a profit (or I guess they wouldn’t do it!). I remember reading an interview with a BA manager a couple years ago and this very question was asked. The BA manager replied that no one at BA said longhaul MAN couldn’t be profitable. But, as a business, they have to use their resources where they generate the MOST profit – LHR. He mentioned that VS is slot restricted at LHR….they need to find alternative avenues for revenue for their resources (planes) as they cannot expand their schedule at LHR. BA doesn’t have that problem. After the acquisition of the ex- BMI slots they have plenty to play with.

  17. @Steve – noted what you say re Virgin / Flybe growing a hub at Manchester. But neither airline is making money. Just because Virgin’s premium cabins have good load factors at Manchester does not mean they are covering their costs. It is probably only a “missed boat” for BA if there was money to be made. Virgin Atlantic as a whole cannot even make money at the top of the cycle whilst Flybe is a complete basketcase. I’m not sure how combining two loss making carriers can make a profitable one.

  18. @ Jonny. Totally. Virgin is solely a longhaul carrier. Flybe solely a regional carrier. Linking up may sound like a match made in heaven but the devil is usually in the detail.

    Say for example a ticket sold by VS from ABZ-ATL via MAN with Flybe operating the ABZ-MAN sector. How much will Virgin give Flybe from the fare? Probably peanuts.

    This is exactly where it all went wrong for BMI. They saw being a short haul feeder carrier for longhaul Star carriers as their fortunes. But over time the bigger partner wanted more and more of the share of revenue. The BMI planes were full with SQ or UA pax flying from LHR-BFS say but BMI was earning virtually zero.

    That’s why the large network airlines can afford to operate routes that individually may not be profitable. BA operates plenty that wouldn’t be profitable in their own right but the benefit it gives to feeding long haul flights makes it worth their while.

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