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British Airways passengers to Cairo to be flown with budget airline Air Belgium

The Belgian airline’s Airbus A340 aircraft are all over 10 years old, and previously flew for Finnair​


Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 01 September 2018 17:01 BST
BA passengers might be surprised to find themselves flying Air Belgium
BA passengers might be surprised to find themselves flying Air Belgium (Wikipedia)

Regular British Airways passengers between Heathrow and Cairo are accustomed to a state-of-the-art Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” on the five-hour daily flight to and from the Egyptian capital.

But starting on Monday, BA’s customers will find themselves on an Airbus A340 jet chartered from a company called Air Belgium.

Prospective customers at are being told the flight is “operated by Air Belgium for British Airways.”

The “wet-lease” arrangement appears to be continuing for three days, with inbound flights from Cairo to Heathrow on 4-6 September.

BA has had 787s grounded because of problems with wear on their Rolls-Royce engines, as have Air New Zealand, Norwegian and Virgin Atlantic.

In response, airlines have chosen some combination of cancelling flights, shuffling their fleets to cover for grounded planes and chartering in capacity from other airlines.

Norwegian has brought in an Airbus A380 “SuperJumbo” for some of its Gatwick-New York services, Air New Zealand has hired an Eva Air Boeing 777 and Virgin Atlantic has leased and refitted Airbus A330s from the defunct Air Berlin.

BA’s move will raise eyebrows because of Air Belgium’s positioning as a budget airline. The Belgian airline’s Airbus A340 aircraft are all over 10 years old, and previously flew for Finnair.

Economy passengers on Air Belgium’s scheduled services are invited to pay €20 for a “comfort kit” including a blanket, pillow, toothbrush and toothpaste. This will not apply to flights operated for BA.

Air Belgium’s ambition to become a scheduled airline has proved problematic. The launch of flights between its base at Charleroi in Belgium and Hong Kong were twice deferred.

New look: schematic illustration of an Air Belgium Airbus A340, chartered by British Airways (Air Belgium)

The airline has also been covering some Air France services, and has announced plans to serve secondary Chinese cities such as Zhengzhou, Taiyuan and Wuhan as well.

A spokesperson for BA said: “We’re doing everything we can to make sure our customers travel as planned, in light of continuing issues with Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines which are affecting many airlines around the world.

“In order to fly as many customers as possible on their original dates of travel, we have leased an aircraft from Air Belgium.

“We are in touch with customers who are affected to offer them a range of options if they don’t wish to continue with their booking.”

In response to the 787 engine problems, British Airways has also reduced flights from Heathrow to Los Angeles and Mumbai, and deferred the re-introduction of its link with Doha until December.

Passengers to the Qatari capital are being re-booked on Qatar Airways, which is a 20 per cent shareholder in BA’s parent company, IAG.

British Airways has been wet-leasing aircraft from Titan Airways and other carriers over the summer, primarily to cover flights from Gatwick. After Monarch went bust in October 2017, BA bought the Gatwick slots of the defunct airline.

The “use them or lose them” rule on slots means BA has had to operate a sharply expanded schedule this summer.

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