Monday, May 21, 2012 | 2:01 p.m.
The storied rivalry between British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways will have a new battleground — Las Vegas.
British Airways, the largest carrier in the United Kingdom by fleet size, announced that it would begin nonstop service three times a week between London’s Gatwick International Airport and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.
The airline will use twin-engine Boeing 777 wide-body jets on the route, which begins Oct. 29. BA’s Club World cabin class features seats that convert to flat beds.
It’s the second overseas route for British Airways to Las Vegas, which already offers daily flights between McCarran and London’s Heathrow International Airport.
British Airways will offer flights Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, leaving London at 11:30 a.m. and arriving at 2:05 p.m. Pacific time. Return flights leave at 3:55 p.m., arriving in London at 9:45 a.m. the next day.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have one of the most competitive rivalries in the airline industry but have avoided direct competition in their flights to and from Las Vegas.
The two airlines have faced off publicly and in court over the years with Virgin’s flamboyant chief executive, Richard Branson, accusing British Airways of instigating a “dirty tricks” campaign against his airline. When British Airways floated a proposal to merge with American Airlines in the 1990s, Branson ordered his planes painted with the slogan “No Way BA/AA.”
Virgin Atlantic has daily routes from London-Gatwick and twice-weekly service from Manchester to Las Vegas while British Airways has daily service from Heathrow, the world’s busiest airport.
British Airways’ operations have been so successful that the airline last June bumped up the size of the plane it uses on the route to a Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
In 2011, Virgin Atlantic flew 332,472 passengers to and from Las Vegas while British Airways had 209,766 passengers.