Fun Fact: Air Canada at London Heathrow

Air Canada has a large international operation for an airline of its size. Photo: Air Canada.

Air Canada has a large international operation for an airline of its size. Photo: Air Canada.

Do you know what North American airline has served London Heathrow for the longest period?

It's Air Canada, which has flown to Heathrow for more than 50 years. As many readers know, the British government tightly controlled what airlines could serve Heathrow until 2008, when the U.S. and European Union reached an Open Skies agreement. 

Air Canada was part of the first group of four North American airlines that won the right to serve Heathrow, according to Ben Smith, the carrier's president.

"The other three North American carriers are no longer in business -- TWA, Pan Am and National," Smith said this week at Air Canada's Investor Day. "It's been awhile. But we have been there well over 50 years."

All three major U.S. airlines are relatively new to London Heathrow. American and United gained entry in the early 1990s, with American buying TWA's rights and United taking Pan Am's. Delta didn't start flying to Heathrow until 2008. 

Here's another Air Canada fact for you. It is largest foreign airline in terms of flights to the United States. It flies to a bunch of midsize U.S. airports, including Milwaukee, Sarasota, Memphis, Kansas City and Nashville. 

Air Canada is not particularly large  - between its mainline operation and its low-cost Rouge brand it only has about 200 aircraft - but it punches above its weight on international routes, both in North America and overseas.

Over the years, Air Canada has built an impressive slot portfolio. These slots, which are in some cases worth tens of millions of dollars each, allow Air Canada to serve important global airports. 

Here is a slide from the recent investor presentation detailing the airline's slot holdings: