What was a British Airways A380 doing in Oakland?

Sep 11, 2019

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Passengers flying out of the Oakland airport usually see a lot of just one type of airplane: the Boeing 737, and mostly in the colors of Southwest, the biggest airline at OAK. There isn’t a lot of airplane variety at the airport on the other side of the bay from San Francisco, despite a relatively big number of yearly passengers. About three-quarters of those 13.6 million passengers fly Southwest, and Southwest only flies 737s.

So it was a big surprise when keen-eyed TPG reader Sam Engel spotted something very unusual when flying into OAK on Tuesday: an Airbus A380, in the colors of British Airways,

Image courtesy of Sam Engel

What was the biggest passenger airplane in the world doing at an airport normally frequented by humble 737s?

Did the big Airbus divert from its intended destination, San Francisco, because of the runway construction causing disruptions, our reader wondered? And if so, what did its passengers — 469 of them, assuming a full plane — do? How did they get to San Francisco if their plane did not go to SFO?

So we did some quick digging, and found out that the big bus didn’t divert to Oakland because of construction. It went there as a consequence of the pilot strike that crippled British Airways operations worldwide on Monday and Tuesday. At one point on Tuesday there were no British Airways planes in the sky, anywhere in the world.

Since BA could not fly its long-haul planes back to the UK during the strike, it ferried some of them for temporary parking to airports with available space. In the case of Oakland, it would also be cheaper than parking at a major international gateway like SFO.

We looked at the flight logs of the airline’s A380s, and sure enough the one with registration G-XLEG was ferried from SFO to OAK, after disembarking its passengers, on Sunday evening. That’s where our reader saw it: his photo clearly shows that it was parked at a remote stand. (Oh, and if you are curious about where OAK ranked in our recent survey of the 50 top airports in the US, it came in at number 38.)

Flight-tracking site Flightradar24 showed that the plane flew to Oakland on Sunday as BA9154 — flight numbers that high usually indicate special or charter flights — and back to San Francisco as BA9155 on Tuesday, after spending two days parked. The schedule then showed it was expected to serve a London to Boston flight on September 12, presumably after going back to London from San Francisco as a scheduled flight with passengers on September 11.

The Oakland A380 wasn’t the only case of a British Airways long-hauler ferried to a different airport during the strike. Ryan Ewing of aviation news site Airline Geeks spotted others, for example a Boeing 777 and another A380 spending the strike period at Washington Dulles.

Featured photo courtesy of British Airways

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