You wait all decade for a British Airways flight from London to San Jose, and then two come along at once. Last month BA announced it will resurrect its link between Gatwick and the Costa Rican capital from 4 May 2016. Now the airline says that, on the same day, it will start the first non-stop flight between Heathrow and San Jose in California. And a day before BA revealed the route, Delta announced another new connection to the western US: Salt Lake City will be the airline’s eighth destination served from Heathrow from 2 May 2016.
The two new American routes reflect rising demand for transatlantic flights; a departure this weekend for a week in California will cost upwards of £1,000. In addition, many of America’s biggest cities have long been served from the UK (almost all from Heathrow), and the rival airlines are now filling in the gaps.
After BA’s highly successful introduction of flights to the Texas state capital, Austin, the airline is hoping to repeat the trick at the largest Californian city with no existing link to London. San Jose is actually the state’s third-biggest city, after Los Angeles and San Diego; San Francisco, while more prominent, has a smaller population.
Mineta San Jose International Airport in California (airport code SJC) is only 40 miles from San Francisco International (code SFO). It offers a much smoother experience than its big rival airport, and has a free bus (number 10) to two nearby transport links: the city’s Metro Light Rail system, and the Caltrain station at Santa Clara. From the latter, you can reach downtown San Francisco in 85 minutes. Given the much shorter likely wait for Customs and Border Protection processing at SJC, passengers who leave London at the same time as SFO-bound travellers may reach the city centre more quickly.
Crucially, the Caltrain line serves Silicon Valley - the main reason British Airways has chosen San Jose for its latest link. Companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google are based in the Santa Clara Valley north of SJC. The substantial number of billionaires is one reason BA is deploying its new Boeing 787-9 with a first-class cabin on the route, though lesser mortals can take take a 10-minute cab ride to the Apple HQ or the Caltrain to Menlo Park (for Facebook) or Mountain View (for Google).
For holidaymakers, SJC is no San Francisco. But it is well placed for the Californian coast. The port of Monterey, venue for the BBC’s Big Blue Live, is an hour away, and just beyond it is the town of Carmel - former mayor, Clint Eastwood.
The 20th-century celebrities in Salt Lake City are the Osmonds, the world’s best-known Mormons. The home of their Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints is the Mormon Temple in the centre of the Utah state capital. As a key hub for Delta, SLC was a clear gap in the schedules, Besides giving access to the mountains and canyons of Utah, the daily Boeing 767 will connect with dozens of flights elsewhere in the Rockies. But as a summer-only service it will prove helpful for skiers keen to test some of America’s best snow.
Where next? With these two big cities now joining the UK-US network covered, the number of other candidates is dwindling. New Orleans remains a possible target for both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic - less so for their US counterparts, because the Mississippi city is not a significant hub. Upriver, though, Memphis could become another Delta departure - or possibly one farmed out to its UK partner, Virgin Atlantic. In Texas, San Antonio is the only significant unserved big city, while on the West Coast the missing link is Portland in Oregon.
Finally, back to San Jose, and the question of how British Airways might prevent passengers booking flights to the “wrong city”? A BA spokesman told me: “There is no specific mechanism in place to prevent the wrong booking. But during the booking process, as for every other route, there are numerous prompts to the customer to make sure they are happy with the booking details, including the full name of the destination. i.e. Costa Rica, versus California. It is also helpful that the Costa Rica flights depart from Gatwick, while the California flight departs from Heathrow.”