MIAMI – If asked to name European transatlantic hubs, Airways readers on the western side of The Pond might not immediately think of Dublin – even if their families originally hail from the Emerald Isle.
However, for a variety of reasons, the Irish capital is increasingly staking out a position for itself as a jumping-off point for North Atlantic journeys.
Geographic perception of Ireland has at least a part to play. In the past, potential European travelers to the U.S. or Canada might not have considered a seemingly remote point on the western fringe of the continent as a plausible staging post.
After all, why wouldn’t they go via a major hub such Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris Charles De Gaulle or even London Heathrow before heading out over the ocean?
But on the other hand, why not? At least you’re heading in the right direction. That position on Europe’s western edge means cutting one to two hours off the transatlantic sector compared to using more prominent hubs.
This is particularly the case for UK flyers. Yes, Heathrow is the obvious choice (not to mention London Gatwick and Manchester). But UK regional travelers have long had an aversion to hacking down to London before heading long-haul. And that’s assuming they can even GET to Heathrow.
As the London hub’s capacity has become increasingly constrained over the years British Airways, in particular, has tended to cut flights between Heathrow and the UK regions in favor of using the limited slots for larger, more profitable, intercontinental services.
For this reason, many in the UK regions have used Amsterdam as their preferred long-haul base, especially as KLM has an extensive UK route network of around 20 destinations.
Indeed, Schiphol has become known unofficially as ‘London’s fifth airport’ (after Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead, and Luton) because of the number of Brits using it.
In recent years, however, more Brits – and other Europeans – have started making their way to Dublin. A significant factor in this has been the creation of a U.S. Immigration pre-clearance facility.
It allows U.S.-bound travelers to clear U.S. immigration and customs before the flight. This means that passengers efficiently arrive as domestic passengers and enables them to avoid the frequently-lengthy passport queues at major airports such as New York JFK, Chicago O’Hare, and Miami.
But Dublin’s attractions “are more than just pre-clearance,” comments Aer Lingus spokesman Declan Kearney.
“Nobody has to backtrack [into mainland Europe],” thus saving that previously-mentioned time compared to flying even from the UK. “Add to that a much faster minimum connection time at Dublin: It’s still a very manageable airport, relative to the big hubs,” comments Kearney.
The growing realization that Dublin is a viable option for westbound passengers can be seen in the fact that between 2010-17, it went from the 11th largest transatlantic hub to the 5th largest.
Busiest November in airport's history as more than 2.1m passengers travelled through @DublinAirport last month, 7% increase over last year. https://t.co/g8oGVGGyQf #travel #aviation pic.twitter.com/J7mAIjYuaQ
— Dublin Airport (@DublinAirport) December 8, 2017
Indeed, says Kearney, Aer Lingus alone has doubled its transatlantic traffic in the past five years. The fact that Dublin is just a 5½-hour hop to U.S. East Coast destinations is also a plus.
Connections from throughout Europe into Dublin in recent years have also mushroomed, not only with Aer Lingus but with low-cost carriers Ryanair and EasyJet, making the Irish capital more readily accessible.
Aer Lingus has made a sustained effort to increase its long-haul passengers in recent years because, like most airlines, it makes more profit from those than from short-range routes.
It has increased the number of its U.S. destinations and is investing in the new generation of long-range narrowbodies – in its case, the Airbus A321neo – to cut operating costs and to help fight burgeoning competition from long-haul, low-cost airlines such as Norwegian and Iceland’s WOW Air.
It is helped in this by its natural, historical constituency of the Irish diaspora in North America, which has traditionally formed the bedrock of its transatlantic traffic. However, the airline is being increasingly ‘discovered’ by those with no Irish connection.
(By way of example, two of this writers’ colleagues flew Aer Lingus business class from Dublin to Boston a couple of years ago and reported back that the cabin crew seemed to regard it as their solemn duty to pour alcohol down their throats at regular intervals – not that said colleagues needed much persuading.)
The attractions of Dublin will become even more apparent in a few years’ time: a long-awaited second runway was originally given the go-ahead in 2007 – just months before the great recession caused a slump in air traffic.
The plans were resurrected when traffic volumes at Dublin again passed the 25 million mark (regarded as the minimum level that merited a second runway).
— Dublin Airport (@DublinAirport) December 11, 2017
Indeed, Dublin’s traffic has boomed in recent times, growing by 6.2 million passengers, or 29%, in the two years until the end of 2016. It almost hit 28 million last year and looks likely to climb further this year. The sole existing runway is at capacity during peak hours.
So, construction began in late 2016 on the new 3,110m North Runway, which is scheduled to be in service by 2021. A third terminal is also mooted as a possibility in the future to cope with expanding traffic.
A future possible source of traffic via Dublin: If negotiations between the UK and the European Union for the former’s exit from the bloc go sour, and barriers are thrown up between the UK and European travel, Dublin (which would still be in the EU) could become an alternative global hub for International Airlines Group — two of whose constituent airlines are British Airways and Aer Lingus.