British Airways will launch nonstop flights between London and New Orleans next spring, marking the city's first direct connection with Europe since 1982. Local officials joined tourism and business leaders Thursday morning (Oct. 20) at Louis Armstrong International Airport to disclose the long-coveted connection, which they call a "game-changer" for the region.This will not be the only nonstop flight to Europe from New Orleans; German carrier Condor will begin seasonal flights from Louis Armstrong International to Frankfurt next May.
The airline will provide year-round service to London's Heathrow Airport starting March 27. The 10-hour flights will depart London on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 3:40 p.m. local time and arrive at 7:40 p.m. New Orleans time. Returning flights will leave New Orleans at 9:10 p.m. and arrive in London the next day at noon.
Passengers will travel on a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, which holds 214 passengers: 154 in economy class, 25 in premium economy and 35 in business.
The new international flights come as New Orleans seeks to push its total annual visitor count over the pre-Hurricane Katrina peak of 10.1 million. Tourism officials consider international visitors, who generally book longer stays and spend more, a key demographic in fueling local tourism growth. The United Kingdom is the second-largest market for foreign visitors to New Orleans, behind Canada, according to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.Can that "catchment basin" generate enough business and leisure travel to sustain nonstop flights to London (and, for that matter, Frankfurt)? Stay tuned; the region is far enough away from other major international hubs in the southeast - Dallas/Fort Worth, Bush Intercontinental, Atlanta and Miami - and New Orleans itself is such a major tourist draw, that it just might work. Besides, if Austin can have nonstop flights to London, why can't New Orleans?
"We're beginning to make strides to where the airlines can see we can fill the back of the plane without an issue," said Stephen Perry, chief executive officer of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Since first approaching British Airways, New Orleans-area tourism and business leaders looked outside the immediate region to strengthen their case for London-to-New Orleans flights, Perry said. Their "catchment basin" approach reached from Lake Charles to Destin, Fla., encompassing more than 5 million people, not only to find more potential passengers but also create more destinations for foreign visitors.
British Airways was the last European carrier to service New Orleans, when its flights from Mexico City to London stopped there to refuel. That service ended in 1982. More importantly, this service marks a huge milestone in the region's ongoing recovery from Katrina.
One has to wonder: given New Orleans' French heritage, will nonstop flights to Paris one day become a reality, too?