By Max Clarke

More than 3.6 million passengers have flown from Heathrow to New York over the last year as it continues to be the world’s most popular transcontinental route, figures out today show.

Flights between the two cities, says BAA Ltd. the owners of Heathrow, are so frequent that you would often wait longer for a pizza, a train or maybe even a cab. March saw an average of one departure an hour during the day and one every 15 minutes during peak evening hours.

‘The London — New York connection is extremely important to the capital as the USA remains the largest investor and inbound visitor market for the city. London is already the world’s most visited international destination, and as we look forward to the exciting events of the next two years, including the Royal Wedding, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Games in 2012, we expect to see even more visitors coming from the USA whether it be for work, study or pleasure,” explained Danny Lopez, Interim CEO of London & Partners.

Waiting times across the airport are also down. Heathrow passengers get through security in under five minutes 99 percent of the time and last month’s average time for returning bags fell to just 30 minutes from the last one being unloaded off the plane.

Heathrow’s most popular route is essential for international business and tourism, linking the world’s two financial capitals. But as the UK’s only hub airport, Heathrow is the premier stop-off point for Americans flying on to Europe, India and the Middle East just as it is for Brits living across the UK.

New York is Heathrow’s top route. Family ties and friendship, trade and tourism link our two great cities. London is also a staging post for many Americans travelling to Europe and the Far East and it’s our goal to ensure Heathrow is the preferred hub against stiff competition from Europe and the Middle East,” commented Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA.

The key distinction between a hub airport like Heathrow and point-to-point airports like Stansted is that long haul flights are sustained through ‘feeder’ planes that bring in passengers from around the globe. This makes Heathrow’s 180 destinations economically viable, since seats would not be full if used just by Londoners.

While travellers come to Heathrow from across the UK, domestic flights from Heathrow have declined due to capacity constraints, with carriers choosing more profitable routes.

But as one of the most competitive and profitable around, six major airlines operate flights to New York every day from London — American Airlines, British Airways, Continental and United Airlines (now merged), Delta, Kuwait Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

Improving business confidence is reflected in business travel between the two financial centres. A total of 758,000 business passengers travelled the route during 2010. The latest figures from MergerMarket suggest that a total of 4,107 cross border M&A deals were announced in 2010, up approximately 34% on 2009

But whether it’s a shopping trip to Macy’s or Bloomingdales or a stroll through Central Park (which is bigger than Monaco), New York is also popular with leisure travellers. Around 9.7 million of the 48.7 million people who visited New York last year were international visitors and of a good proportion of those are British. Around 80 percent of flyers between London and New York are leisure travellers.

With the upcoming royal wedding, however, the tables are set to turn as London gets ready for an American invasion with thousands of US tourists expected to fly into London.