A decision by British Airways to cut round-trip airfares to London by one-third sparked a trans-Atlantic fare war yesterday, as competing airlines rushed to slash their London-bound rates.
Pan Am Corp., parent of Pan American World Airways, announced yesterday that it had "basically matched" the British Airways cuts announced Sunday, while TWA said it would cut in half fares to London from any U.S. airport also served by British Airways.
In the Baltimore-Washington area, reservations agents for USAir Corp. and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines also were offering newly instituted "special" fares to London comparable in some respects to the British Airways fares.
British Airways cut its 30-day advance purchase fares to London by a third and offered full refunds on those tickets to passengers who change their plans.
Under the new program, round-trip tickets on British Airways flights from New York to London will be $481 midweek and $521 on weekends from April 6 through May 31 and during October, and $588 and $628 respectively, from June 1 through Sept. 30.
Travelers must book and be ticketed by March 15 for travel beginning April 6 and completed by Oct. 31 to receive a full refund if they cancel their trip.
In response, TWA, based in Mount Kisco, N.Y., announced it would reduce first-class, business-class and full coach fares between London and six U.S. cities -- New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Boston and Philadelphia -- by 50 percent through Oct. 31.
With the discount, the round-trip coach fare between Baltimore-Washington Airport and London's Heathrow Airport will be $374 midweek and $404 on weekends. Tickets must be purchased by Feb. 18 and are fully refundable, Jim Faulkner, a TWA spokesman, said.
Before the discount, unrestricted coach fares between BWI and London were $748 round trip in midweek and $808 round trip on weekends, TWA reservations agents said.
"Basically, we were prompted to offer this discount because of the British Airways action. But we also wanted to offer passengers a better deal," Mr. Faulkner said.
USAir, which flies from BWI to London's Gatwick Airport through Charlotte, N.C., is offering a midweek round-trip coach fare of $474 and a weekend fare of $524, reservations agents said. The offer began two days ago, the agents said.
On Jan. 11, KLM, which flies directly from BWI to Heathrow Airport, began offering a midweek round-trip coach fare of $448 and weekend fare of $498, reservations agents said.
The USAir and KLM fares must be ticketed 14 days in advance and are non-refundable, the agents said.