Gatwick’s Fast Track to Cloud-Cuckoo Land

“Watch out, Heathrow as Gatwick goes to war” was the headline in this weekend’s Sunday Times Travel Section. The article says that Gatwick has hired a “leading PR agency” to launch a propaganda war against Heathrow. One initial success seems to have been in persuading The Sunday Times to publish several pro-Gatwick pieces over the last few months.

According to the PR puffery so willingly reprinted by The Sunday Times, “increasing numbers of airlines are already moving to Gatwick and British Airways is adding more routes”.

BA is constantly switching routes between Heathrow and Gatwick in an effort to make the best use of its slots at Heathrow. It will never move routes away from Heathrow unless it has to.

It is true – as Inside Traveller has on occasion reported, that Gatwick has gained some new airlines – Air Berlin has moved some flights from Stansted, Norwegian Air Shuttle has moved all its service from Stansted and easyJet is growing at Gatwick in preference to Luton.

In contrast, the airport has lost two of its last remaining well-known international airlines as both Etihad and Qatar have retrenched at Heathrow. This leaves Gatwick as the London home of such world-leading foreign airlines as Cubana, Air Zimbabwe and United Airlines of Bangladesh. The days are long gone when the airport was a major centre for US airlines as they all left for Heathrow some time ago.

The principal achievements of Gatwick under its new owners appear to have been paying shareholders a particularly large dividend and taking credit for improvement works begun by the previous owners, BAA.

This silly war could be dismissed as harmless PR nonsense but there is a slight worry.

Gatwick has no chance of ever competing meaningfully with Heathrow. The concentration of business there is simply too great. The airport can compete very successfully with Luton and Stansted – which is where it has had most success. To succeed in this, its charges have to be kept very competitive. Hiring expensive PR agencies and spending too much management time and money in a battle against Heathrow which they cannot win, risks the last remaining strength of Gatwick’s business. They need to concentrate on the customers they have – not the ones they would like but can never get.