Air New Zealand is abandoning its Fifth Freedom route between Los Angeles and London. Will United step up with a second daily flight?
Air New Zealand has served London since 1982. Until a few years ago, Air New Zealand ran a round-the-world service, flying from Auckland to Los Angeles to London to Hong Kong to Auckland on NZ1/2. First, Air New Zealand suspended its Hong Kong to London service, citing competitive pressures. Now it is using similar language to explain its total departure from London.
Today Kiwis have more than twice the number of ways to fly to London than a decade ago and preferences have changed. Less than seven percent of all airline travelers between Auckland and London chose to fly via Los Angeles last year.
At the same time, the Atlantic has become one of the most hotly contested routes in the world and Air New Zealand lacks the home market advantages and scale of the North American and European airlines we’re up against.
With the suspension of this route, Air New Zealand will terminate the positions of 130 cabin staff who exclusively serve the LA to London route. That’s a lot of staff for one Fifth Freedom flight. Air New Zealand will make efforts to offer these crewmembers different positions in the airline, including a potential relocation to Auckland.
An Opportunity For United
United and Air New Zealand are not only Star Alliance partners, but joint venture partners. With Air New Zealand’s suspension of LAX-LHR, might United add a second daily from flight between LAX and LHR.
You might recall that in 2016 United announced it would double up on LAX-LHR. The new flight was loaded into the schedule and many tickets were sold. But in early 2017, United abandoned the new flight, citing weak demand.
With Air New Zealand gone, United may have additional incentive to consider that second daily service. UA923 currently departs at 5:30PM. A midday or late evening departure would complement the existing service nicely.
United’s decision to add a second flight to Heathrow is not continent upon gaining Air New Zealand’s slot. I would not be surprised if Air New Zealand sold or leased it to United, but even if it sold the slot to the highest bidder, United could shift one of its flights from Newark. That too would be a commercial decision, well beyond my pay grade. The point is simply that United could add this flight no matter what Air New Zealand does with its slot.
Horrible International Connection At LAX
Any discussion on this topic is not complete without first identifying an issue that likely made Air New Zealand’s Los Angeles to London service a far less attractive option.
All passengers transiting through the USA must clear passport control and customs, even if they are just connecting. With horrible lines, gruff agents, and a generally arduous process, who would want to fly to London via Los Angeles when you could do so via Singapore, Bangkok, Doha, Abu Dhabi, or Dubai? Each of those airports make the transit experience far more enjoyable than the mess that is LAX.
Even when all the refurbishment at LAX are complete, transiting will still require exactly what it entails now. You cannot blame passengers for seeking to avoid this.
United has a great opportunity to double up service between Los Angeles and London. Even if just seasonal, offer a second flight would show commitment to its LAX hub and provide greater flexibility for passengers.
image: Prayitno / Flickr