Air Transport World

Selling the U.S. back to the Brits. (American airlines trying to entice British passengers)

The departure of Pan Am and TWA from London Heathrow Airport didn't exactly leave a power vacuum. it could be more nearly equated to six princes fighting for the throne before the king is dead. Eight U.S. carriers-American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Pan Am, TWA, United and USAir-are in competition with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic for the roughly 10 million passengers who fly between the U.K. and U.S. annually. However, TWA and Pan Am have only their Gatwick routes left and Pan Am's sale of its European authority to Delta will take it off those routes (see article, page 24).

The shift in North Atlantic competition also is causing a shift in marketing within the U.K. Of the 10.1 million passengers who flew between the U.S. and U.K. in 1990, 5.03 million flew westbound to 23 U.S. gateways, according to DOT's U.S. Int'l Air Travel Statistics.

While Pan Am and TWA are virtually as well-known in England as is British Airways, the remaining six U.S. carriers are not. To an Englishman, United is the name of a top English football team from Manchester and American is the type of football played in the U.S.

"Actually, United is getting to be very well-known in England, partially through all the publicity surrounding our entry into Heathrow," said David Coltman, die carrier's VP-Atlantic division.

While the British and U.S. governments fought over the legalities of more powerful U.S. carriers taking the Heathrow routes, the British press was providing wide coverage of the carriers involved. And the fact that two of the top executives involved in the battle had names that played to the British love for tabloid headlines didn't hurt.

"We got a lot of publicity through press headlines such as Wolf scratching at King's door'," Coltman said.

He noted that United was not exactly unknown to the U.K. business community, with some 20,000 Britons already in its Mileage Plus program. He acknowledged, though, that the airline is not as well-known to the British leisure market.

"We're embarking on an extensive TV campaign in the south of England, which is Heathrow's catchment area," Coltman said, adding that the airline also is relying heavily on direct communication math travel agents, educating the agencies on what United has to offer.

"A lot of U.K. travel is through package tours, which tend to be price-driven. The British also tend to rely on travel agents to tell them what is available, whereas in the U.S., people go to agencies already knowing what they want."

United will be playing to a relatively new pattern among British leisure travelers. Until a few years ago, these travelers tended to buy their vacations based on single, low-cost package deals, herded together as groups and at the mercy of the tour operator. They also tended to go east and south, to the continent and the Mediterranean.

Now, however, the British vacationer is turning westward, toward the U.S., and becoming more discretionary-willing to spend a bit more to have a more individualized vacation. He also is expecting more service for the money.

To meet this growing demand, United will be "placing our main emphasis on quality of product," Coltman said. …

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