London still best-connected city in Europe despite Heathrow’s limitations; Dublin and Rome lose most routes during 2009

In this week’s exclusive analysis, a comparison has been made between the busiest cities (in terms of air travel) in 16 western European countries. Which cities are best connected to the rest of the world and which have seen the biggest change in the number of non-stop destinations served during the last year?

To facilitates a like-for-like comparison, data for the first week in August 2009 has been compared with the first week in August in 2008. This is around the peak of the summer season when traditionally the maximum number of destinations are served. Of the 16 cities examined, seven are served by multiple airports. These are:

  • London (5): City, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and Stansted.
  • Oslo (3): Gardermoen, Rygge, Torp
  • Paris (3): Beauvais, CDG, Orly
  • Stockholm (3): Arlanda, Bromma, Skavsta
  • Brussels (2): Charleroi, Zaventum
  • Frankfurt (2): Main, Hahn
  • Rome (2): Ciampino, Fiumicino

Only one city in each country was examined. So although Barcelona, Berlin Tegel, Düsseldorf, Manchester, Milan Malpensa, Munich and Palma are all busier than Helsinki or Lisbon, they are not the busiest cities in their country and are thus excluded.

London benefits from having the most airports and across all five airports a total of 370 destinations were served this summer, down 11 on summer 2008. Low-cost operations by the likes of easyJet and Ryanair at Gatwick, Luton and Stansted serve many foreign airports not reachable from Heathrow. In terms of individual airports however, London Heathrow has long been overtaken by Amsterdam, Frankfurt Main and Paris CDG in terms of non-stop destinations served.

Chart: Leading European cities - Total non-stop destinations served across all airports (2008 annual passengers in brackets)
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 3 August 2009 and w/c 4 August 2008

In general, the greater the number of total passengers, the higher the number of destinations served. Brussels, thanks to the combination of Zaventem and Charleroi (a growing Ryanair base), performs above expectations serving almost as many destinations as Rome despite only having half the total number of passengers.

Zurich adding routes, Dublin and Rome losing them

Between August 2008 and August 2009, five of the 16 cities examined increased the number of non-stop routes from their airports while 10 saw a decline (Paris remained unchanged). The biggest gainer was Zurich which increased its non-stop destinations from 147 to 157. However, this net gain of 10 routes disguises the fact that seven destinations were lost while 17 were added. Most of the additions came from local carriers Edelweiss and Helvetic adding low frequency holiday destinations but there were also new destinations added by Air Seychelles (to the Seychelles), Armavia (to Yerevan), Belle Air (to Tirana), OLT (to Heringsdorf) and Pegasus (to Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen).

Image: Leading European cities - Net change in number of non-stop destinations served: August 2009 v August 2008
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 3 August 2009 and w/c 4 August 2008

Dublin’s net loss of 14 routes also hides the fact that five new destinations have been added (Catania, Funchal, Memmingen, Vancouver and Weeze) while 19 destinations have been lost (Basel*, Berlin Tegel, Bremen*, Calgary, Doncaster/Sheffield*, Durham Tees Valley*, Forli*, Friedrichshafen*, Fueteventura*, Gothenburg Save*, Guernsey, Kosice, Los Angeles, Norwich, Palanga, Ponta Delgada, Porto*, Salzburg* and Stuttgart. *Ryanair route). Other airlines dropping routes to Dublin from their schedules included Flybe and Lufthansa, while the demise of flyLAL and SkyEurope also cost the airport a couple of routes.

London gains 17 new destinations but loses 28

Between London’s five airports, there was a net loss of 11 destinations during the last year. This consisted of gaining 17 destinations but losing 28. Among the new destinations are Bacau, Hyderabad, Memmingen, Punta Cana, Rimini, Sao Paulo, Tangiers, Timisoara, Trapani and Zweibrücken. A summary of the lost services is provided below:

Destination (code) London Airport Airline Weekly
Aalesund (AES) Gatwick SAS 2
Ahmedabad (AMD) Heathrow Air India 5
Ankara (ESB) Heathrow Bmi 7
Balaton (SOB) Stansted Ryanair 3
Cardiff (CWL) Gatwick Zoom 1
Dhaka (DAC) Heathrow British Airways 3
Dresden (DRS) Gatwick British Airways 7
Durham Tees Valley (MME) Heathrow bmi 20
Ekaterinburg (SVX) Heathrow bmi 3
Kaliningrad (KGD) Gatwick KD Avia 7
Kolkata (CCU) Heathrow Air India
British Airways
Liberia (LIR) Gatwick First Choice 1
Lilongwe (LLW) Gatwick Air Zimbabwe 1
Malmo (MMX) Gatwick Sterling 5
Osaka Kansai (KIX) Heathrow JAL 7
Palanga (PLQ) Stansted flyLAL 2
Pau (PUF) Stansted Ryanair 7
Rygge (RYG) Stansted Norwegian 3
Salvador (SSA) Gatwick First Choice 1
San Diego (SAN) Gatwick Zoom 2
Sarajevo (SJJ) Gatwick British Airways 2
Seychelles (SEZ) Heathrow Air Seychelles 2
Strasbourg (SXB) London City Air France 17
Sumburgh (LSI) Stansted Atlantic Airways 2
Tbilisi (TBS) Heathrow bmi 3
Vilnius (VNO) Gatwick


Windhoek (WDH) Gatwick Air Namibia 2
Winnipeg (YWG) Gatwick Zoom 1
Source: Derived from OAG Max Online for w/c 3 August 2009 and w/c 4 August 2008

Some of these losses are due to the collapse of airlines (flyLAL, KD Avia, Sterling and Zoom) while others reflect airlines taking the difficult decision to drop underperforming routes.


  1. Jon says:

    Cardiff (CWL) to Gatwick (LGW) Zoom 1

    This was never operated as a route between the two airports. It was simply a double drop flight operating Gatwick-Cardiff-Toronto-Cardiff-Gatwick. Zoom did not transport passengers between Gatwick and Cardiff. replies: We quite agree that Zoom did not transport passengers on the Gatwick – Cardiff route. However, the ‘route’ appears in OAG data as the airline did fly between these two points. We should stress that the analysis is for non-stop services. As a result Air Seychelles is on the list as having dropped its route even though it still operates to Heathrow. But this summer it operated its twice-weekly flights via intermediate points in Europe (Frankfurt and Zurich according to OAG) and so non-stop service has been lost.

  2. Carlos says:

    I don’t agree with the methodology you have used, because it is misleading. We have just two ways to compare routes between cities. The first making use of the IATA codes, in this case Paris has two airports, Frankfurt one, and London three (LTN-Luton and STN-Stansted aren’t London airports).

    Of course you will reply that airlines promote these airports as such and people use them to reach London and Beavauis to go to Paris. But you used Hahn as a second Frankfurt airport and Hahn is more than 100km away, but you haven’t used Bratislava-Vienna (that is just 60 km away) to Vienna. What is the reason to sometimes include a smaller airport being considered a secondary airport of one city and sometimes not? So using IATA codes it is much more simple and transparent.

    The second way is to compare directly connections between cities. Ryanair for instance uses very often airfields that are near bigger cities, and in this case they count twice, even if people go to the same city. They use Torp but people go to Oslo or Lübeck and almost everybody drives to Hamburg.

    Another example, recently Lufthansa moved their flights from Berlin TXL from London City to London Heatrow. They have the same number of flights and fly to the same city and even use bigger aircraft and that means more seats. But according to your methodology Berlin loses one connection and is less well connected. replies: Thanks Carlos for your comments. You raise some interesting points. We believe that most people in the industry would consider Luton and Stansted as part of the London airport system and so we have included them. Hahn is an interesting case as technically it is closer to Luxembourg than it is to Frankfurt. (Surprising really that Ryanair have never thought to promote it as Luxembourg East.) We did consider including Bratislava as part of the Vienna airport system, and Malmo as part of the Copenhagen airport system but decided to draw the line at airports in different countries. Although we did not include Berlin in our analysis I would argue that in the case of London City v London Heathrow they are indeed quite different destinations. Why else would British Airways start new JFK services from LCY to complement their LHR services? A Berliner wanting to conduct business in the London Docklands area will be disappointed to have ‘lost’ the LCY service as the LHR service will add considerable time to his total journey. We would therefore argue that in such a case Berlin is indeed less well connected than it was.

  3. Richard Moore says:

    There is one error on your list, Ryanair still serve Pau from Stansted nonstop. The airport was closed from 27 July to 9 August this year due to runway work, so FR diverted flights to Lourdes. But they’re definitely back there now.

    bmi still serve Tiblisi, but I believe it is now a one stop. So it fits in the same category as your Air Seychelles exception in a previous comment. replies: Our carefully selected week for analysis was the first week of August which is why Pau is on the list. No doubt our results would vary slightly depending on which weeks we chose for analysis, but I think the overall trend would remain the same.

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