British Airways Eyes Spring Return to Pittsburgh

Pandemic, travel restrictions diminish international travel in the near term

By Bob Kerlik

Published August 24, 2020

Read Time: 3 mins


British Airways has postponed its return to Pittsburgh until spring as the COVID-19 pandemic impact and subsequent travel restrictions continue to dampen international travel.

Nonstop service between Pittsburgh and London Heathrow is scheduled to resume March 28, in time for the 2021 spring and summer travel seasons. It had previously been scheduled to resume Oct. 2, 2020.

Pittsburgh International Airport officials said the announcement was great news and that it makes sense to delay the return until the pandemic and travel restrictions ease.

“It’s important that this flight succeeds, and we feel that with all of the uncertainty around global border closings and traditionally low traffic in January and February across the transatlantic, we get to put our best foot forward with a spring 2021 relaunch,” said Christina Cassotis, Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO. “We appreciate British Airways’ confidence in this market and look forward to their return.”

The flight was immensely popular with business and leisure travelers alike, given the shared connections between Pittsburgh and the U.K. as well as other parts of Europe, including strong healthcare and tech industries.

British Airways said schedule changes are part of a regular review.

“We regularly review and amend our schedule in response to customer demand and relevant travel regulations,” the airline said in a statement.

Pandemic travel restrictions in the U.K. mandate that visitors from most countries, including Americans, self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival. The European Union has blocked Americans altogether from entering for now amid COVID-19 concerns.

British Airways launched nonstop service between PIT and LHR in April 2019. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

The U.S. has implemented its own pandemic international travel rules, requiring Americans returning from 28 European countries, including the U.K., to enter the country through one of 15 designated airports. Pittsburgh and most mid-size cities are not among them.

The U.S. has also suspended entry to nearly all foreign nationals who have been in those same countries, as well as China, Iran and Brazil, at any point during the 14 days prior to their travel to the U.S.

In other words, the pandemic has made it difficult to travel between the U.S. and Europe.

“We recognize how international travel has been impacted by government travel restrictions globally,” said Bryan Dietz, ACAA’s Vice President of Air Service Development. “With British Airways serving a global connecting point of London Heathrow and with each country or global region having varying rules of travel restrictions or quarantine requirements, we are hopeful that international travel will be more uniform for travelers when British Airways returns to Pittsburgh.”

In July 2019, roughly 5,000 international flights operated out of U.S. airports daily. Today, that number is down more than 80 percent, averaging less than 900 daily flights.

And it’s not just foreign carriers that have been affected. Of U.S. carriers, the “big three”—American, United and Delta—have been hit hardest by the decline. International destinations make up significant portions of their networks.

Airlines have tried to shore up confidence in booking by implementing flexible rescheduling policies. For example, British Airways’ Book with Confidence commitment allows customers to book a trip now, with the assurance that they can change the date or destination and re-book their journey until August 2021.

“What we know is, the borders being closed or not, U.S. airlines are flying less than 25 percent of their 2019 service across the Atlantic this summer, the peak season,” said Bill Swelbar, research engineer at MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation.

“Border closures certainly impacted some service being operated during the past months, but it would likely be marginal in the overall scheme of things. If Europe’s concern over U.S. coronavirus cases continues into 2021, then the impact will be much more significant.”

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