(12:00 p.m. EDT) -- MSC Cruises has confirmed it will charter three British Airways flights a week next summer, flying from Gatwick to Genoa and Venice.
It is the first time MSC has chartered direct flights catering exclusively to the UK market, and the move follows the decision earlier this year to redeploy ships based in the UK from 2015.
The flights are part of MSC's goal to more than treble the number of UK passengers it carries within three years, to 200,000.
MSC Cruises executive director UK and Ireland, Giles Hawke, said: "We may no longer be having ex-UK ships, but we're making sure we continue to serve the UK market, and making it as easy as possible for UK passengers to get to our ships by launching these charter flights."
The flights will launch in April 2015 and will serve six MSC ships operating out of the two ports. The Genoa flights will depart on a Saturday and a Sunday and will serve Armonia, Preziosa, Divina and Fantasia. The Venice flights will serve Magnifica and Musica.
The added flight capacity also serves MSC's long-term goals, and looks forward to 2017 and beyond, when MSC will take delivery of four new mega-ships. The new ships represent more than 21,000 berths that the line will need to fill.
MSC is also increasing its flying commitment from the UK for its Dubai Winter programme from Gatwick and Manchester, and rolling out a new pricing structure which incentivises early bookers with upgrades and other onboard benefits.
--By Adam Coulter, UK Editor