MIAMI — Over the years, Aer Lingus has developed its own uniquely Irish passenger experience, even as it has flirted with becoming a low-cost carrier in the context of national stablemate Ryanair. Its recent acquisition by British Airways’ and Iberia’s IAG holding group provides a real chance for a renaissance by the Irish carrier.
With its connectivity over Dublin to Europe, Aer Lingus is a popular choice for US flyers heading eastbound, and certain aspects of its passenger experience have become must-dos: the famous Irish Breakfast (don’t forget to pre-order!) and a pint of peaty Guinness during transit, no matter what time of day.
Aer Lingus is fortunate in that its connections via Dublin Airport are significantly more pleasant than many other, larger European hubs. New owner IAG’s British Airways often-nightmarish multi-terminal hub at London Heathrow is one to avoid in particular, as is Iberia’s expansive yet somewhat inefficient Madrid Barajas terminal.
On the westbound transatlantic leg, US immigration and customs pre-clearance is a significant advantage, enabling Aer Lingus to arrive like a regular US domestic flight. Even the actual processing is easier — not least because, let’s face it, an ICE agent on a plum assignment in Ireland is generally going to be in a much better mood than one working at JFK.
Towards Europe, Aer Lingus offers dozens of European destinations that might lighten the load on Heathrow with extra connecting traffic over Dublin. Major European destinations are already in the EI network, and the airline has significant UK operations: Aberdeen, Belfast City, Birmingham, Blackpool, Bristol, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Doncaster, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Inverness, the Isle of Man, Jersey, Leeds, London Gatwick, London Heathrow, London Southend, Manchester, Newcastle, Newquay, and Southampton. British Airways doesn’t offer flights to or from a number of those airports, with a significant proportion of connecting flights going over Amsterdam, Paris or other European hubs, so bringing them back into the IAG fold is a win for the group.
Just days before the takeover was accepted, Aer Lingus announced plans to resume daily flights to Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport and add Washington Dulles to its network. Additional frequencies to Amsterdam, Birmingham, Geneva, Manchester, Paris and Zurich were also announced.
A UK expansion could also roll out to previous EI destinations within the British Isles: Belfast International, Derry, Durham/Tees Valley, Liverpool, London City, and London Stansted.
Flying west, Aer Lingus currently serves Boston, Chicago, New York JFK, Orlando, San Francisco, Washington DC and Toronto in Canada. But it has in the past served Baltimore, Los Angeles, New York Newark and Montreal. With recent fleet additions via a set of Air Contractors Boeing 757-200 aircraft operating New York, Boston and Toronto flights, and the development of Airbus’ A321neoLR 757 replacement that would be a common type rating with its European Airbus A320 family fleet, Aer Lingus has several options in terms of fleet type and sizing to develop new transatlantic markets.
If Aer Lingus is to prove a reasonable alternative to British Airways within Europe, the variance in its European fleet — particularly in economy class — might need some attention. Its A319 fleet, previously operated by Iberia, is significantly less comfortable than the rest of its narrowbody fleet. And it will certainly need to actually offer a business class within Europe, even if that is just a middle-seat-free Eurobusiness product.
Integration into the IAG Avios frequent flyer program will make Aer Lingus more attractive to business travellers as well, particularly since Aer Lingus transatlantic business class will be familiar to Avios users thanks to the period of time where BOS-DUB in business was a serious redemption sweet spot in the Avios programme.
Interestingly, Aer Lingus actually offers a better transatlantic business class (the Thompson Vantage product) than British Airways’ custom B/E Aerospace Club World seat — EI’s is a fully flat bed in a staggered layout that offers direct aisle access for most passengers, rather than the more dense BA yin-yang configuration.
Arguably, Aer Lingus needs to have the better product, since eastbound redeye flights are around an hour shorter, so getting right off to sleep and not being disturbed is even more vital. Google flights lists EI108, the JFK-Dublin flight, as scheduled for 6 hours 20 minutes, yet durations recently have been as short as 5 hours 25 minutes and faster flights (usually in the winter) brush the five hour mark. You need a decent bed to get a good night’s sleep on that short a flight, where the first hour is going to bed and the last hour is waking up, leaving under three and a half hours for actually sleeping.
Look for the airline to follow the lead of Australian carrier Qantas, which certified its own Vantage XL seats to take off on similarly short Aussie transcontinental redeyes with mattress pad already fitted and seat slightly reclined, ready to go straight to bed. At some US airports, colocation of Aer Lingus flights with IAG and other oneworld carriers could also expand the existing JFK and Boston supper service in the lounge prior to boarding, making straight-to-sleep even more of an option.
It’s an exciting time for the airline, with turnaround CEO Christoph Mueller off to fix Malaysia Airlines and a new role as the third full-service airline in the IAG stable. The next few months will be a significant bellwether pointing in the direction of Aer Lingus’ future — watch this space to see which way it decides to point.