Billion Dollar Route: New York – London Is King Of The Top 10 Airline Flights By Revenue

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One airline’s flying generated over a billion dollars last year on just a single route. That’s the conclusion of data from U.K. airline schedule company OAG, which began publishing airline schedule information in 1929 under the name the ‘Official Aviation Guide Of The Airways.’ They’ve published a new ranking of the top 10 airline routes by revenue, revealing that British Airways earned nearly $1.2 billion over the last year just flying between New York JFK and London Heathrow.

The importance of New York-London as a market can’t be overstated. British Airways generated over a billion dollars flying between those airports from April 2018 and March 2019 and that’s even after revenue declined for them about 10% year-over-year, according to OAG data. That total doesn’t include their flying from Newark airport, either.

A Boeing Co. 747 passenger aircraft, operated by British Airways, a unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (IAG), lands at London Heathrow Airport in London, U.K., on Monday, Dec. 24, 2018.  Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

© 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP

What’s more they don’t even have anything close to a monopoly on New York-London flying, with service also offered by United, American, Delta, and Virgin Atlantic. (American and BA, and Delta and Virgin, share revenue across the Atlantic as part of anti-trust immunized joint ventures.)

Here’s the full Top 10 list showing the total revenue an airline earns on each route (April through March), and how much revenue per flight hour they generated.

2018/19 2018/19 % Change
Airline Route Revenue Revenue/Hour Revenue/Hour
British Airways New York JFK – London $1,159,126,794 27,159 -10%
Qantas Melbourne – Sydney 861,260,322 23,773 -1%
Emirates London – Dubai 796,201,645 24,926 -3%
Singapore London – Singapore 735,596,614 18,771 -13%
United Airlines San Francisco – Newark 689,371,368 12,882 4%
American Los Angeles -New York JFK 661,739,788 13,099 -2%
Qatar London – Doha 639,122,609 20,415 -9%
Cathay Pacific London – Hong Kong 604,595,063 13,887 -21%
Singapore Sydney – Singapore 549,711,946 20,821 -5%
Air Canada Vancouver – Toronto 541,122,509 11,936 -7%

Five of the top 10 revenue routes in the world start or end at London’s Heathrow airport. Whether attributable to a slowing world economy, the challenges of an impending Brexit, or other factors all 5 of those routes saw declining revenue year-over year.

London Heathrow is the main gateway to a world financial center and is slot-controlled. A pair of takeoff and landing slots there has sold for more than $70 million. With the pre-eminent position at the airport, British Airways has been able to cram a lot of premium seats into planes and offer an inferior business class. The fact though that London Heathrow has 5 of the top 10 revenue routes in the world, yet British Airways cracks the top 10 for only one of those, may explain the airline’s investment in a new business class product offering direct aisle access fully flat seats with doors to compete for premium ticket sales.

After London the most frequent city to appear on this list is New York with three of the highest revenue routes in the world were centered on New York area airports.  Those New York destinations were London Heathrow, Los Angeles and San Francisco. If you’ve ever wondered why long flights from New York see an arms race in premium passenger lounges and premium cabin seats, it’s this lucrative revenue that airlines are after.

NEW YORK, NY, USA – SEPTEMBER 6, 2018: Morning hour at JFK Terminal 1 with empty checkpoint lanes and floors, John F. Kennedy International Airport.


Air Canada’s Toronto – Vancouver operation is very much in line with the US premium transcons – flights between New York and both San Francisco and Los Angeles – both in distance and passenger mix, which helps explain why the airline has invested in improving the premium product on that route.

There’s only one short haul city pair that makes the top 10 revenue list: Sydney – Melbourne. Qantas runs about three dozen flights a day between the two largest cities in Australia, mostly with Boeing 737s but with a few widebodies thrown in as well.

The top 10 routes are the same routes as last year, although the order of some of the routes on the list has changed.   United and American trade 5th and 6th places, Qatar and Cathay Pacific trade 7th and 8th places, and Air Canada and Singapore trade 9th and 10th places.

None of these airlines has materially changed the amount of flying they do on these routes except that United has reduced the number of flight hours on its Newark – San Francisco route by 6%. Perhaps not coincidentally this is the only route where revenue per flight hour has gone up while it’s dropped (in some cases markedly) on the other 9 out of the top 10 revenue routes.  That doesn’t bode well for airline revenue growth overall.