MIAMI – Today, British Airways is launching service between Fort Lauderdale International Airport (FLL) and London Gatwick Airport (LGW). British Airways will operate the Boeing 777-200ER on the route that complements its existing service to Miami International Airport (MIA).

British Airways is just the latest foreign carrier to see the virtues of South Florida’s second busiest airport, which has been one of the fastest growing airports (both domestically and internationally) over the last couple of years.

Fort Lauderdale always had a massive base of short haul international traffic thanks to its proximity to the Caribbean. Spirit Airlines’ “hub” at Fort Lauderdale was in large part driven by connectivity to Latin America. But the last couple of years have seen a surge in long haul flying, an increasingly popular class of flying.

In 2017, Fort Lauderdale has medium or long haul service from:

  • Avianca (to Bogota).
  • Azul (to Sao Paulo – Campinas).
  • British Airways (to London Gatwick).
  • Copa Airlines (to Panama City).
  • Emirates (to Dubai).
  • JetBlue (to Bogota, Cartagena, Lima, Medellin, and Quito).
  • Norwegian Air Shuttle (to Barcelona, Copenhagen, London Gatwick, Oslo, Paris Charles de Gaulle, and Stockholm).
  • Spirit (to Armenia, Bogota, Cartagena, Lima, Medellin, and Panama City).
  • And TAME (to Guayaquil).

In 2012, only Avianca, Condor (a now canceled seasonal flight to Frankfurt), JetBlue (Bogota only), and Spirit (the same route structure as it has today) served such routes. This expansion amounts to 15 new medium and long haul routes (with one lost) since 2012.

It’s no wonder that Fort Lauderdale saw international passenger jump 10.1% in 2016 and 16.9% in May 2017 (the most recent available month). FLL is now the tenth busiest airport for international passenger traffic (April 2017) and 21st overall (29.2 million passengers in 2016).

Fort Lauderdale now has nonstop service to more than 50 international destinations in more than 30 countries around the world, part of the more than tripling of international traffic volume since 2004.

In the domestic arena, an increasingly pitched battle between JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines (and a steady state situation at Spirit) has also ratcheted up domestic growth, much of which feeds this international travel.

The international growth comes as passenger traffic growth at nearby Miami International Airport is finally slowing down after growing ~33% between 2009 and 2015. MIA has also seen plenty of growth, but its higher landing fees and heavier exposure to weakened South American markets (most notably Brazil and Venezuela over the last two years) have robbed the airport of growth momentum.

Miami is certainly the preferred airport for business travel (the economic production center of gravity in the South Florida metropolis is concentrated on the southern end). But Fort Lauderdale is more centrally located to serve the whole metropolis, and both Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach to the north have numerous wealthy and affluent residents (particularly retirees).

For leisure-oriented fliers, this creates a strong base of travel demand in the immediate catchment area for the airport. And vacationing college students and families won’t hesitate to make the drive even up from Miami for the $100s in savings relative to pricing at MIA.

For British Airways though, the dual airport strategy makes a lot of sense as it can capture a lot of business traffic at Miami (and more premium connections from their joint venture [JV] partner American Airlines) while siloing leisure passengers at Fort Lauderdale (thereby increasing margins for both types of customers).

Moreover, for American, the route allows it to capture more relevance in the northern regions of the metropolis and serve customers that travel for business out of Miami but for leisure from Fort Lauderdale

While British Airways will be directly competing with ultra-low-cost carrier, Norwegian Air Shuttle, on the Gatwick – Fort Lauderdale route, the reality is that the two carriers are targeting fundamentally different types of traffic.

British Airways is targeting a leisure customer that still expects a full-service carrier experience (perhaps a medium-scale holiday traveler), while Norwegian is scraping the bottom of the barrel. The two airlines currently co-exist in New York, Oakland, and Orlando, and the South Florida – UK market is big enough that this route should not have a different outcome.  

Airways will be live from the Fort Lauderdale Airport to welcome the inaugural British Airways flight from London Gatwick. Be sure to follow @AirwaysLive on Twitter for live coverage from today’s event.