We just flew British Airways’ new low-cost service from Gatwick – was it worth the wait?
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After an almost two year absence, British Airways has resumed short-haul services from London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW).
Long regarded as the airline’s second hub (after London Heathrow Airport (LHR)), Gatwick has traditionally been used for short-haul services to leisure destinations across Europe and North Africa, as well as long-haul flights to the Caribbean and Florida.
To celebrate both the first flight, and the reopening of Gatwick’s South Terminal, TPG were on one of the first flights earlier today. Here’s what you can expect if you are flying British Airways short-haul from Gatwick right now.
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BA continued to operate some flights to and from Gatwick during the pandemic, though these were primarily long-haul flights to a handful of Caribbean destinations with a handful of domestic feeder flights to connect passengers onto these long-haul flights.
Summer in Europe usually sees Gatwick’s terminals bustling with busy holidaymakers. Flights to the sunny beaches of Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey can be especially popular. However, the pandemic saw leisure travel dramatically reduced over the past two summers and on 15 June 2020 Gatwick’s South Terminal closed. All surviving airlines were consolidated into the airport’s North terminal — BA included.
This was less than ideal for BA passengers as the airline’s well-regarded Gatwick lounge, located in the shuttered South Terminal was no longer accessible. This meant travellers had to make do with the inferior Aspire Lounge, also accessible to Priority Pass members.
British Airways had at one stage decided not to resume short-haul European flights at all from Gatwick Airport. Facing fierce competition from easyJet — the airport’s largest airline with 40% of all pre-pandemic flights — BA argued they could not compete against low-cost carriers with their higher cost base.
This began a series of back and forth negotiations in late 2021 between BA and pilot and crew union representatives. Eventually, after negotiating lower costs for staffing a ‘new airline’ of sorts was announced, under the name BA EuroFlyer and British Airways set to return to Gatwick after rebuilding their European network from late March 2022.
BA promised that no matter how much lower their operating costs with this new venture, the passenger experience would be no different from short-haul services on BA from Heathrow. Lounge access would be available, and status benefits honoured.
On Sunday 27 March 2022, the South Terminal reopened. British Airways moved back on 28 March with short-haul European services commencing on 29 March.
Check-in and lounge
British Airways have returned to their traditional check-in area in the A desks of the South Terminal. It’s a huge space considering how few flights they have right now with plenty of capacity for check-in and bag drop.
The premium check-in area, while a visually pleasing space, now allows so many different types of passengers (from Executive Club bronze up to paid first class passengers) that this is unlikely to be much of a time saver if flights are full over summer.
The South Terminal’s fast track security was open but with so few flights departing from the South Terminal this morning there was no queue at any of the lanes.
I was pleased to see the excellent British Airways lounge in Gatwick reopened. Entry staff were in high spirits and delighted to be welcoming back guests. One staff member joked that she felt ‘like the Pope’ this morning for her first shift back, wanting to kiss the ground of the space she had dearly missed during the pandemic.
Masks were not worn by most staff and passengers at check-in, security and in the lounge.
I was surprised to see BA has retained the QR-code ordering system for food in the lounges — with the lack of social distancing requirements I had thought BA would return to a normal buffet — perhaps the ordering system is here to stay?
The menu options are the same as you will find at Heathrow galleries lounges and breakfast included fruit salad, porridge and bacon baps. With few passengers in the lounge at this early hour, meals were delivered in minutes. It’s nothing fancy but it does the job.
All drinks, including coffee, are self-serve from the stations in the centre of the lounge. Canard Duchene Champagne was available — this retails for around £35 per bottle.
There are also pastries and cookies available next to the coffee machines with no need to order through the app.
45 minutes before departure the gate for our flight to Amsterdam was announced. While there had been no requirement to wear a mask inside the terminal building, all guests were advised they would need to wear one on the plane because of Netherlands government requirements.
The gate area was narrow, cramped and awkward but with less than 50 passengers on our flight to Amsterdam, there was plenty of seating available.
I noticed that while my boarding pass said priority (I am Executive Club silver), it didn’t have a group boarding number like I am used to seeing at other BA bases.
Priority lanes were set up at the entrance to gate areas but not at the actual aerobridges.
Executive Club gold and Club Europe (business class) members were invited to board first, followed immediately by all other guests just a few seconds later.
A number of BA management in corporate attire were standing in the aerobridge just outside the aircraft door excitedly welcoming back short-haul guests to Gatwick.
On stepping aboard the aircraft all crew were masked up, and had both face masks and individual sanitising wipes for all guests.
We boarded a standard configured British Airways Airbus A320 aircraft with four rows of Club Europe and a Euro Traveller cabin — all of the seats were well padded.
With so few passengers on the flight, boarding was completed in only five minutes and the flight departed and arrived on time.
The Captain gave all guests a very warm welcome over the tannoy, explaining that he had been stationed at Gatwick for many years before the pandemic. Noting that this was his first flight departing Gatwick in nearly two years so he was delighted to be flying us the short-hop across to the Netherlands.
If British Airways did reduce their costs when they resumed short-haul flying from Gatwick Airport it was not noticeable from the passenger perspective — this flight was identical to a short-haul Heathrow service. The cheery crew members moved through the cabin passing out light refreshments — a small bottle of water and the choice between two equally sugar-loaded breakfast bars.
While it’s great to have free food and drink on a flight like this (I thought this may have disappeared with the resumption of short-haul services from Gatwick) I hope BA can consider something more nutritious than this in the future.
This was one of the easiest and most pleasant BA flights I have ever taken. With so few passengers both onboard and passing through Gatwick’s reopened South Terminal, every step of the journey was a breeze. I have no doubt Gatwick Airport will become much busier as BA and other airlines prepare for two years of pent up travel demand. For now, however, it’s a truly premium experience with plenty of cheery staff everywhere to help you on your way.
BA’s Gatwick lounge is one of my favourites in their network and a big step up from the Priority Pass options passengers in the North terminal have endured throughout the pandemic. Free pour (real) champagne at 6am is not something you will find in every lounge.
With so many reports of Heathrow Terminal 5 currently struggling with insufficient staff and overwhelming passenger numbers, I would highly recommend considering Gatwick for your next short-haul flight to Europe. There was nothing low cost about the passenger experience — it was an example of when BA are great, they are really great.
It’s another significant step towards post-pandemic normality for British travellers.
Featured image by Ben Smithson / The Points Guy
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