Chicago's O'Hare International is one of the busiest airports not only in the United States but also in the world. As of 2023, it's considered to be the world's most connected airport with nonstop service to over 45 countries.
If you happen to be flying either British Airways or Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) from or to Chicago soon, expect to encounter some significant (albeit temporary) changes.
British Airways and SAS both operate twice-daily service into Chicago. British Airways serves London Heathrow twice per day while SAS serves both Copenhagen and Stockholm.
While the flight schedules remain unchanged, both airlines have made a significant change to the aircraft - and even the company - operating one of their two daily flights.
Until October 27th, Scandinavian Airlines' flights SK943 and SK944 on the Copenhagen - Chicago - Copenhagen routing will be operated by HiFly Malta.
It's no surprise that SAS has been going through some issues in recent history, whether those be crew-related strikes or financial troubles.
Recently, SAS has been facing both aircraft and crew shortages. In an effort to maintain full service to the vast majority of its network, the carrier has been forced to assess its options. Therefore, the best option for Scandinavian at this point was to contract HiFly to operate its Copenhagen to Chicago service.
HiFly Malta's Airbus A330-300, 9H-HFA, is the jet that's been assigned to operate between Denmark and Chicago. While the plane type hasn't changed (SAS also operated their A330-300s), the configuration on the inside definitely has.
The SAS A330-300s feature 34 Business Class seats, 35 Premium Economy seats, and 195 Economy seats. On the flip side, the HiFly A330-300 leased to SAS has 46 Business Class and 203 Economy Class seats.
The loss of Premium Economy on the HiFly jet can mean two things. With 12 extra Business Class seats, it's likely that some Premium Economy customers might receive a welcome upgrade. However, with eight extra Economy seats, it's also likely that some Premium Economy customers might suffer a downgrade.
Scandinavian's daily service between Stockholm, Sweden, and Chicago continues to operate using the airline's own fleet of A330-300s.
Now moving on to British Airways. The UK flag carrier operates two daily services into Chicago, BA295/294 and BA297/296. The afternoon roundtrip, BA295/294, is the one that has received a major aircraft change.
Until November 14th, this London Heathrow - Chicago - London Heathrow roundtrip is being operated by Air Belgium.
Previously, it was said that Air Belgium would cover the route until October 28th. However, according to the British Airways website, this seems to have been extended by another two or so weeks.
BA295/294 has been operated by a mix of British Airways metal over the years, most recently switching between the 777s, 787s, and even the Airbus A380.
Air Belgium's A330-900neo, either OO-ABF or OO-ABG, will be operating this service until mid-November. These aircraft feature 30 Business Class seats, 21 Premium Economy seats, and 235 Economy seats.
Compared to a British Airways 787-10, there is a significant reduction in the Business Class and Premium Economy offering, not to mention a complete absence of First Class.
The British Airways 787-10, one of various planes the carrier has flown to Chicago, features 8 First Class seats, 48 Business Class, 35 Premium Economy, and 165 Economy seats.
With that being said, passengers booked in First, Business, or Premium Economy can expect a downgrade in terms of hard product offering if they are to fly on the Air Belgium-operated flight.
Once Air Belgium ceases to operate this route for British Airways, BA295/294 will switch back to British Airways metal, with the Airbus A380 taking over from November 15th. The evening service to/from Chicago, BA297/296, will operate on the Boeing 787.
Wet Leases Explained
These examples of HiFly and Air Belgium covering flights for SAS and British Airways, respectively, are known as "wet leases".
In the aviation industry, a wet lease is when one airline (the lessee) leases an aircraft from another airline (the lessor). That other airline not only provides the aircraft but also the crew, maintenance, and insurance (known as "ACMI" for short).
So taking HiFly and SAS as an example, SAS is paying HiFly every hour that it uses the HiFly A330. HiFly, in return, provides the crew to operate the plane in addition to paying the maintenance and insurance.
In short, the airplane and crew are the two main things that change with a wet lease agreement. "Soft Product" services like food, for example, will usually remain the same.
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