LONDON— From next May, British Airways (BA) will launch a thrice-weekly service to the Peruvian capital Lima (twice-weekly in winter), and a twice-weekly frequency to San José, Costa Rica (thrice-weekly in winter).
Although the Caribbean is well-served by BA – particularly to cater for sun-starved Brits seeking some warmth during dismal winters – South America has been relatively poorly addressed as a destination. This is partly due to history: the UK’s only colonial possession on mainland South America was British Guiana (now Guyana) so cultural links with the continent are few, while trading links are also relatively thin.
BA downsized its services to the continent in the economic dip following the 2001 9/11 attacks and they have been slow to return. Until earlier this month, BA’s services to the continent were limited to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo (Brazil), and Buenos Aires (Argentina).
Ironically, despite the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War, there remains some fondness for the UK in Argentina (there was substantial emigration there from Wales in the 19th century and many British surnames can still be found in local telephone directories), and the BA service to Buenos Aires attract relatively healthy numbers of business travelers.
BA says that the new Lima and San José routes are being driven largely by tourism. Costa Rica is a major destination for environmental tourism due to the variety of rare species to be found in its rainforests. Peru – which was served by the former British Caledonian until Peru closed its airspace to British airliners in 1982 in solidarity with Argentina over the Falklands/Malvinas conflict – has seen booming tourist numbers heading for Machu Picchu and The Inca Trail in recent years.
Lima is also a hub for LAN Peru. Both Chile-based LAN and Brazil-based TAM, which joined together as LATAM in 2012, are, like BA, partners in the oneworld alliance. The new service to the Peruvian capital taps into that local LATAM network.
British Airways has said that both new destinations will be served with Boeing 777s. The sub-type has not been mentioned, but it is likely to be the smaller-capacity 777-200 (224 or 275 passengers, depending on whether the individual aircraft is in four- or three-class configuration). The -200 already operates to Rio and Buenos Aires, whereas the 299-seat, four-class -300 is used almost exclusively on denser Asian routes.
Theoretically, UK passengers heading for South America can make use of BA’s partner in the International Airlines Group, Iberia. One of the Spanish flag-carrier’s attractions to BA when it joined up with Iberia under the IAG umbrella was its extensive South and Central American network.
However, travelling via Madrid typically adds around three hours to what is already a lengthy 10 to 14-hour journey, depending on destination, which is a disincentive to many UK-originating passengers. From Madrid, Iberia offers service under codeshare to most of its Latin American destinations such as Caracas (Venezuela), Bogota (Colombia), and Santiago (Chile), to name a few.
Another option for South American-bound travellers is to transit Miami and continue on oneworld partner American Airlines’ southbound flights. However, this again adds time and UK passengers are increasingly aware of the relatively poor quality of inflight service offered by US carriers, especially at the back of the aircraft, and the lengthy immigration and customs clearance in Miami, mandatory even for those in connecting flights outside the U.S.
Significantly, BA’s two new services will depart London Gatwick, rather than Heathrow. This is a further sign of the pressures on the heavily-constrained Heathrow, with BA preferring to use their available slots for higher-density sectors such as the Middle East and Asia.