Break the monopoly: more than half of British travellers want greater competition at Heathrow Airport

posted on 18th October 2019 by Eddie Saunders
Break the monopoly: more than half of British travellers want greater competition at Heathrow Airport

A new poll by Populus for Virgin Atlantic has revealed that the British public supports increased competition between airlines operating out of Heathrow Airport, with 57% of all respondents demanding more choice.

The results suggest that many UK passengers heading to global destinations are choosing to connect via European airports such as Madrid and Frankfurt, rather than through the UK’s hub airport.  The survey of 2,000 passengers shows that 36% of people flying out of a UK airport have connected at a European hub to reach their final destination, because it was cheaper than connecting through Heathrow, or because no connecting flights existed between their local airport and the west London hub.

However, the polling illustrates public enthusiasm for using Heathrow if greater airline competition existed, with three-fifths (59%) of respondents saying they would choose to connect through the airport rather than via a European hub, compared to just 8% who would not, suggesting increased choice could attract more passengers to travel via Heathrow.

Summary of key findings include;

  • Overall 57% of people want more competition between airlines at Heathrow. This is especially true in Northern Ireland, where 70% back greater choice.
  • 59% of respondents said they would choose to connect through Heathrow rather than via a European airport, compared to just 8% who would not, if there was increased airline choice.
  • 36% of people flying out of a UK airport have connected at a European hub to reach a global destination because it was cheaper than connecting through Heathrow, or because there were no connecting flights from their regional airport.

The findings follow recent research by a former Treasury economist which revealed the dominance of one airline group at Heathrow meaning that 18.5 million people each year are flying on 77 routes where there is no competition between airlines. The study estimated that the lack of competition means passengers could be paying up to 10% more on a standard return flight.

“It’s crystal clear that the British public wants more choice at Heathrow Airport. Virgin Atlantic is best positioned to tackle the lack of competition head on, as the second flag carrier that our country so desperately needs. Change is not a choice but a necessity.” commented Shai Weiss, Virgin Atlantic CEO.

“We have outlined our ambitions to create effective competition when Heathrow expands by proposing 84 new routes, linking domestic and European flights to international destinations, benefitting passengers through more choice and lower fares.  With a third runway due to open from 2026, the government has a unique opportunity to transform competition at the airport by re-assessing the way take-off and landing slots are allocated. This once in a generation opportunity cannot be missed.”

Later today Shai Weiss will outline the airline’s ambition to become the UK’s second flag carrier in a keynote speech to politicians and industry representatives at the Airlines 2050 conference in London.  He’ll use the opportunity to urge the government to reform the way Heathrow’s new take-off and landing slots are allocated. He will also launch the airline’s new campaign website, www.twoflagcarriers.com which will allow passengers to directly lobby their local MP to ensure there is more competition at Heathrow.

Last month, Virgin Atlantic laid out its route plans for when the third runway opens. The plans represent a fourfold increase on the airline’s current international network and include exciting unserved destinations such as Kolkata (India), Jakarta (Indonesia) and Panama City (Panama), where currently passengers cannot travel to non-stop; as well as tackling 25 monopoly routes, which are currently solely operated by British Airways. In total, Virgin Atlantic plans to serve 103 domestic, European and long haul destinations, up from 19 long haul destinations in 2020.