When British Airways expanded its Pittsburgh service last spring from four flights a week to six—less than a year after the route resumed from its pandemic hiatus—the airline cited continued strong demand for the market.
That decision has paid off, as demand has remained strong.
This summer was the airline’s busiest at PIT since it first launched service to London Heathrow Airport in 2019. The expanded, six-weekly nonstop flights propelled the airline to its largest monthly passenger totals to date at the airport.
British Airways carried 9,936 total passengers both ways between Pittsburgh and London in June 2023, up nearly 87 percent from the same period in 2022 and over 57 percent compared to June 2019.
July and August followed that same trend. British Airways flew 9,491 bi-directional passengers between London and PIT in July, up over 54 percent year-over-year and 43 percent from pre-pandemic figures. August monthly passengers both ways were up 72 percent from last year and nearly 66 percent from 2019.
Europe and beyond
British Airways’ nonstop flights aren’t only about connecting Pittsburgh to London.
From the airline’s hub at London Heathrow, British Airways serves more than 100 destinations across six continents worldwide.
And British Airways is a founding member of the Oneworld Alliance, which includes 14 member carriers that serve nearly 1,000 destinations across 150 countries worldwide. British Airways also belongs in the alliance’s transatlantic joint venture with American Airlines, Aer Lingus, Finnair and Iberia, further strengthening the airline’s global reach.
That means that British Airways’ PIT route gives Pittsburghers easy access to the rest of the globe—and travelers are taking full advantage of it.
Numerous European cities were in the top connecting markets carried by British Airways on the Pittsburgh-London route, namely Barcelona, Paris and Rome. Other cities in Europe included Athens, Prague and Venice, markets that were also popular with Pittsburghers connecting through London.
Bob Thompson, executive vice president of Pittsburgh-based Ambassador Travel, said that his business was reflective of this summer’s trend.
“I would say that in general, travel to Europe has been extremely strong this summer. Especially points beyond London that passengers connected to,” he said.
Thompson said Italy was the most popular market for his business, which is predominantly leisure travel, a market British Airways provides multiple connections via London Heathrow.
“‘Rome and Naples are the ones that we’ve been seeing the biggest demand for,” he said. “Naples is kind of a newly discovered market that’s booming.”
Another popular connecting market for Pittsburgh-London? India. Destinations such as Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Mumbai were also among the top connecting city pairs flown by British Airways from Pittsburgh.
British Airways provides the quickest connections between Pittsburgh and India, two regions that share ties with education through Carnegie Mellon University’s partnership with India’s Science and Engineering Research Board. The flight also connects India’s massive technology industry with Pittsburgh’s own rapidly growing tech sector.
Kollengode Venkataraman, publisher of The Pittsburgh Patrika, a quarterly magazine for the Indian diaspora, said the flight is a huge benefit for the growing Indian population in the region – and pulls travelers from Ohio, West Virgina and beyond.
“With this nonstop to London, India-bound passengers can reach their destinations with just one stop over in Heathrow, thus eliminating the need for an additional stop in a huge U.S. hub such as (New York-JFK, Newark, or Chicago),” he said.
“From Heathrow, there are nonstop flights to Indian metros such as Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru, New Delhi, and Hyderabad. The elimination of an additional stop saves nearly four to six hours of gate-to-gate travel times, plus the hassle of having to navigate a monstrous and crowded U.S. hub.”
While passenger counts have grown, so has cargo, as British Airways plays a vital role in connecting international cargo to the region.
In September 2023, British Airways flew over 427,000 pounds of freight between PIT and Heathrow, up 133 percent from the same period last year, according to ACAA data. As of September, British Airways has ascended to become the airport’s fourth largest airline by freight volume behind cargo operators FedEx, UPS and Amazon Air.
What’s on the horizon
British Airways will increase the Pittsburgh-London route back to six flights per week in the spring of 2024, up from four weekly flights it has planned for this winter season. British Airways will operate the route every day except Sundays with its Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.
Starting next year, British Airways will be complemented by Icelandair’s recently announced nonstop service to Reykjavik, marking the return of nonstop flights between PIT and Iceland flights. Effective May 16, Icelandair will operate the Pittsburgh-Reykjavik route on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays on a Boeing 737 MAX 8, meaning Pittsburgh will be connected to Europe every day of the week through late October.
As more transatlantic capacity is added to Pittsburgh, Thompson is expecting an even busier amount of travel to Europe in 2024, with travelers already making plans for next year.
“I have quite a few bookings for 2024 already on the books. I even just booked people on British Airways for Cork, Ireland, next September,” he said. “I think 2024 is going to be a really strong year.”