British Airways Is Using a Tiny Belgian Airline to Operate Some Flights to the US
It's been quite the wild ride for Air Belgium since it emerged 10 months ago. In April 2018, the airline came out of nowhere to start booking flights between Hong Kong (HKG) and Brussels' secondary airport South Charleroi Airport (CRL).
Inaugural flights were originally set for Apr. 30 -- a very aggressive launch window considering it started selling tickets just weeks before. Sure enough, the inaugural was pushed back to June 3 just days before the first flight was supposed to take off.
By late June 2018, Air Belgium shared it was planning an expansion to the United States. Meanwhile, it was struggling to sell enough tickets to justify its only route. By the end of September, the airline suspended all flights and transitioned into a wet lease operator. As one last Hail Mary, it planned to launch a new route between Brussels and Zhengzhou. That route would never take off.
Since the beginning of October, Air Belgium has flown just four flights with an Air Belgium flight number. Instead, it's found some success for its fleet of four Airbus A340-300 aircraft as a wet lease operator for:
- British Airways between London Heathrow (LHR) and Dubai (DXB) and London Heathrow and Abu Dhabi (AUH)
- Air France between Paris (CDG) and Lagos (LOS)
- Surinam Airways between Paramaribo (PBM) and Amsterdam (AMS)
- TUI Fly with one-off flights from Brussels (BRU) to Varadero (VRA), Montego Bay (MBJ), Tenerife (TFS) and Gran Canaria (LPA)
- Aigle Azur with a one-off flight between Paris (ORY) and Campinas (VCP)
Now, Air Belgium will finally get its wish to launch flights to the United States -- just not in the way it had originally planned. With British Airways' 787-9 Dreamliners still affected by the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engine inspections and repairs, BA will utilize Air Belgium aircraft for flights between London Heathrow (LHR) and Newark (EWR) from April 1 and June 8.
The flights will operate on the following schedule:
- BA 185 — London Heathrow (LHR) 10:50am Departure ⇒ Newark (EWR) 1:40pm Arrival
- BA 184 — Newark (EWR) 6:05pm Departure ⇒ London Heathrow (LHR) 6:15am +1 day Arrival
The British Airways Boeing 787-9 that the Air Belgium A340 is replacing has all four classes of service: First, Club World (business), World Traveller Plus (premium economy) and World Traveller (economy). However, Air Belgium's A340 only has business class, premium economy and economy.
As part of this aircraft swap, there's at least going be a need to downgrade first-class passengers. But, there's likely to be many more involuntary downgrades. Air Belgium only has 15 business class seats vs. 42 on British Airways' 787-9, and there's only 21 premium economy seats on Air Belgium vs. 39 on British Airways' 787-9.
British Airways anticipates that there will be backlash for this move, and it's prepared to offer travelers a "range of options."
"If your long haul flight this summer is due to be operated by Air Belgium on behalf of British Airways we recognise that you may not wish to travel as a result," the airline said. "If you wish to discuss the range of options available please contact us or your travel agent if you made your booking through them."
For those that plan to stick with these Air Belgium flights, British Airways responds to many questions travelers may have on this announcement page. Travelers who paid for seats are being "allocated a similar seat," but may request a refund if its "no longer suitable."
Checked baggage and lounge access will be honored per the original booking and eligibility. No Wi-Fi or duty free will be available on the new flights. But the good news is that "Avios and tier points will be credited to your Executive Club account as per your original booking."