Overseas travel returns to Lindbergh with Zoom Airlines’ London flights


(TVLW) – Four years after Lindbergh Field lost its only overseas service, no-frills flier Zoom Airlines announced yesterday that it will begin nonstop flights next summer from San Diego to London.

Airport officials wooed the Canadian-based economy-fare airline with a mix of financial incentives, beating out San Francisco and Seattle for the service.

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Among other things, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority offered $200,000 in marketing incentives to promote the new overseas flights here and in London, and $100,000 in temporary landing fee and terminal space rent waivers.

Zoom, which already offers daily flights between New York and London, said it will launch its new twice-weekly San Diego-London route June 20. The airline also has routes from Canada and Bermuda to Europe, and is introducing new routes between London and Fort Lauderdale and Denver next year.

Flights will depart from San Diego on Mondays and Fridays at 4:35 p.m. and arrive at Gatwick Airport in London at 11:05 a.m. the following day. They will depart from London on Mondays and Fridays at 11:30 a.m. and arrive in San Diego at 2:50 p.m., the airline said.

“We expect the flights will be popular on both sides of the Atlantic,” said Thella Bowens, president and chief executive officer of the Airport Authority. “The London flight will give San Diego’s tourism industry access to thousands of British travelers, who tend to stay longer and spend more.”

The Airport Authority’s board agreed in October to provide more incentives to lure international carriers. Since British Airways halted its nonstop flights to London in October 2003, the airport has had no airline that provides direct service outside North America.

Between March 2001 and October 2003, British Airways ran nonstop flights between Lindbergh Field and London, shuttling about 281,104 passengers between the cities, with an average of 188 people per flight.

Hampton Brown, an Airport Authority expert on route development, said the British carrier’s now-defunct service ranked slightly higher than the U.S. average in terms of seats occupied. But while the flight was popular, British Airways couldn’t tempt enough business travelers to fill its more profitable business and first-class seats.
“British Airways never complained that they couldn’t fill up the back of the plane,” Brown said. “What is good about Zoom is it is all economy and premium economy seats, so they aren’t worried about the front end of the plane.”

A Zoom round-trip ticket from San Diego to London in late June will cost either $498 or $898, depending on whether passengers book economy or “premium” economy seats, which offer perks such as additional legroom and meal and drink benefits.

The cheapest comparable one-stop flight was with Delta Airlines for $1,296 round trip, based on a search yesterday on Internet travel booking site Travelocity.

Tourism is the San Diego region’s third-largest industry, but international tourism makes up less than 5 percent of that, said San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO David Peckinpaugh.

“This should be a big help, and it starts to answer some of the issues we have regarding international travel,” Peckinpaugh said. “Hopefully, the market will prove that we can support it, and others will follow.”

Stuart Klaskin, an independent airline analyst, said Zoom enjoys a solid reputation in the airline industry, and should stimulate travel on both sides of the route, particular among leisure travelers.

“The rule of thumb is that new airline service is never a bad thing, and new service from a low-cost carrier is a very good thing,” said Klaskin of Florida-based Klaskin, Kushner & Co.