Aer Lingus CEO says new service at PHL Airport will be ‘transformational’ for airline
By Kenneth Hilario, Philadelphia Business Journal
Aer Lingus is set to launch flights out of Philadelphia International Airport this year. Service out of PHL is meaningful for the Irish carrier and its travelers, both leisure and business, thanks in part to efficiency and the proximity to downtown.
Ireland’s flag carrier airline Aer Lingus in October 2017 announced it would begin nonstop flights from the Philadelphia International Airport to Dublin Airport — service that will begin operating March 25 for four days of the week before adjusting to daily service on May 18.
Reservations have been strong, with over 10,000 guests having purchased tickets for summer travel “to Ireland and beyond,” Aer Lingus CEO Stephen Kavanagh said Tuesday at an event organized by the Irish American Business Chamber & Network.
Aer Lingus will be the sixth foreign flag airline at PHL when service begins, following Icelandair, which this year launched flights to the city of Rekjavik.
Discussions between PHL and Aer Lingus have been ongoing for the last seven to 10 years. The carrier’s growth as a company played a large part in its expansion; it served 2 million guests in 2017, and it expects to serve 2.5 million in 2018.
Service at PHL can be “transformational” for the carrier, thanks in part to the proximity between the airport and Center City.
“I was pleasantly surprised to get in a cab last night and be downtown in the hotel within 15 to 20 minutes. That’s transformational in this modern age,” Kavanagh told the Philadelphia Business Journal in a one-on-one interview following the Tuesday event.
“When people’s time is so precious, to be able to serve a city like Philadelphia with an airport that’s so proximate, we really can build upon that experience and allow people the time to enjoy what they want to be doing,” Kavanagh said.
“We work very hard to make the experience on board pleasant, but ultimately we’re serving people because they want to go somewhere and do something,” Kavanagh said.
That proximity is even more important to business travelers flying with Aer Lingus.
“For the business traveler, what we’re selling is time,” Kavanagh said. “When you’ve got to travel from A to B, you want it to be as pleasant an experience as possible, but it’s your time that you’re valuing. Direct service eliminating stops and convenient transfers to Dublin, when combined with efficient airport operations, you’re not wasting any time when you’re traveling through Aer Lingus.”
That’s combined with the fact that Ireland is the only European country with U.S. pre-clearance for guests traveling to the United States, according to Aer Lingus, which will operate out of Terminal A-East at PHL.
“It’s a very efficient, simple process for us to start operations in Philadelphia, and that simplicity translates into cost, and that cost allows us to be more price competitive,” Kavanagh said.
U.S. customs and border protection take place in Ireland, meaning U.S. travelers going back home can avoid long customs lines and arrive as a domestic passenger.
“From an Irish consumer perspective, that opens up a lot more connectivity at Philadelphia because there isn’t that complexity,” Kavanagh said, referring to the time saved. “When we’re selling time as a proposition, it’s that convenience that adds value.”
This is unique to Dublin and Shannon Airport in Ireland. The only place it’s replicated in any scale is in Canada, Kavanagh said.
There’s a wealth of business opportunities between Ireland and Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, presenting a value proposition for starting service in the city.
With 232 locations in Pennsylvania, Ireland is among the largest investor countries in the state, according to data by the Department of Community & Economic Development.
Ireland ranks ninth for the total number of firms and the seventh for the total number of jobs in Pennsylvania.
Irish companies have a large presence in the Philadelphia region, too.
Seven of the top 10 Irish-owned companies in Pennsylvania have headquarters in the region, including Towers Watson Pennsylvania Inc., which provides 2,000 jobs.
“We’ve long since understood there’s a significant demand in Philadelphia and Dublin,” Kavanagh said.
“If we look at data, that market is in the top 10 of markets between North America and Dublin,” Kavanagh said, “so it’s long been our ambition to serve the market because we know there’s demand.”
“When you combine with that the success we’ve been building in Dublin – essentially a hub that serves the U.K. and Europe, not just Ireland — it was a compelling proposition for us,” Kavanagh said.
There are also strong heritage ties in Philadelphia.
More than 11 percent of Philadelphians have Irish heritage; the city’s held a St. Patrick’s Day Parade since 1771; and elected officials have Irish heritage, including Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, according to information Commerce Director Harold T. Epps presented on Tuesday.