An upgraded flight from the Triangle to London that began Sunday signifies the growing customer demand that the area has seen in the past few years, officials said Tuesday.
American Airlines is now using a Boeing 777-200 for its nonstop service to London’s Heathrow Airport. The larger aircraft has about 260 seats, 40 more than the Boeing 767 that previously served the route, including 45 lie-flat, all-aisle access seats in Business Class.
“The reason is demand,” American Airlines spokeswoman Lakesha Brown said Tuesday. “The RDU-London route is a huge business route out of Raleigh.”
But the biggest change, RDU spokesman Andrew Sawyer said, is that the new aircraft offers in-seat entertainment such as live television and wireless internet service for the 8-hour flight overseas.
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“Just like the 767, it’s a two-aisle plane, but it’s just a little bit nicer and newer aircraft,” he said.
This isn’t the first time the Boeing 777 has been used on the Raleigh-London trip.
“It has been used seasonally in the past for peak summer demand or when they’re doing maintenance on their 767 fleet,” Sawyer said. “But now, it’s assigned year round, which is a great boost to the business community.”
Employees of the 20 or so UK-based companies in the Triangle, such as pharmaceutical company GSK, are excited about the upgrade, said Steve Cain, president of the Triangle chapter of the British-American Business Council, a transatlantic business network that promotes trade and investment between the United Kingdom and the U.S.
“So anybody who has any reason – business or pleasure – to go back is excited by that,” Cain said. “There’s also lots of big American-based companies that have significant UK-based operations, like Quintiles.”
The nonstop flight to London has served the airport for more than 20 years. American Airlines began operating nonstop service to London via Gatwick Airport in 1994, then switched to Heathrow Airport in 2008.
“London is such a great hub with connections to Europe and all over the world, so for a lot of people London isn’t their final destination,” Cain said.
Last year, RDU broke its record for most customers when a little more than 11 million people traveled through the airport – 10.4 percent more than in 2015. That topped the airport’s previous record, set in 2000, of 10.4 million passengers.
Nearly 30 percent of the passengers that boarded at RDU in 2016 flew with American Airlines, second only to Delta Air Lines. American offers nonstop flights to 11 domestic and two international destinations – London and weekend service to Cancun, Mexico – from RDU.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845