British Airways’ PIT pullout is permanent

British Airways’ PIT pullout is permanent

Something does not quite add up with British Airways’ confirmation to Pittsburgh media outlets that its nonstop flights between Pittsburgh International Airport and London’s Heathrow Airport have been scrapped for pretty much all of 2021.

The flights, four times weekly and heavily subsidized by Pennsylvania taxpayers, were wiped out in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. They were scheduled to return this coming March 28 and run through November 2021. That, after two return false starts this year.

But as The Pittsburgh Business Times first reported, those flights, available to be booked as recently as the weekend of Dec. 11-12-13, no longer can be reserved on the British Airways (BA) website. For the totality of next year.

As the airline wrote in an email to the newspaper when the lost booking ability was discovered:

“We are sorry that, like other airlines, due to the current coronavirus pandemic and global travel restrictions we are operating a reduced and dynamic schedule. We will be in touch with any customers whose flights are affected and advise customers to check ba.com for the latest flight information.”

But the paucity of detail there, the suspension of all 2021 flights between Pittsburgh and London and no BA talk of resuming those flights, certainly raises the question if the schedule wipe out is permanent.

And a Dec. 16 British news report leaves no doubt.

The London Air Travel publication (londonairtravel.com) says Pittsburgh is one of three North American destinations – the other two being Charleston, S.C., and Calgary, Alberta, Canada — in which BA is terminating its long-haul flights.

The headline on the story is unequivocal: “British Airways has permanently (emphasis added) suspended a large number of long-haul routes.” Among those listed, the flights to PIT, considered to be “a marginal long-haul route.”

That more than suggests that even before the pandemic hit, the flight was not performing.

Additionally, BA has cut 10 flights to Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Middle East.

British Airways “temporarily” suspended its Pittsburgh-London flights in mid-March because of growing coronavirus-related travel restrictions. It missed two deadlines – Aug. 2 and Oct. 2 – to restart service, again coronavirus-related.

An Allegheny County Airport Authority spokesman says it has not been told the flights have been outright canceled. He was holding out hope that the flights could return in a post-pandemic period resurgence.

Rose-colored glasses never served as blinders better.

BA’s Pittsburgh flights returned in April 2019 after a long absence. Touted as a “coup” by some, the return was subsidized with $3 million in public money over two years.

But even before the pandemic struck, the Allegheny Institute (in Policy Briefs Vol. 18, No. 31 and Vol. 19, No. 14) questioned the deal’s claims of grand economic benefits.

As the former Policy Brief concluded, given that “the most probable effects of the subsidy will be to damage competitors while increasing the net outflow of resources from the region, it is hard to see any upside to handing over tax dollars to the airline.”

That assessment has not changed.

Aside from the question of if those BA flights ever will return is the ancillary question of how much of the subsidy has been paid. And if those flights never return, as the British news report has it, will any money have to be repaid?

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).