As Virgin Atlantic celebrates its thirtieth anniversary later this month, here are more images from the airline’s history.
Whilst Virgin Atlantic’s route network is relatively small compared to its major rivals, when it does launch a route, the airline can never be accused of not making an entrance:
Miami was the second route to be launched by Virgin, initially from London Gatwick in 1986. It celebrated the 25th anniversary of this route, Miami Vice style, in 2011 (pictured above). In typical fashion it involved Sir Richard Branson, who has remained the public face of the airline throughout its history, carrying a model in his arms and jumping into water.
Another one of the early route additions was Tokyo in 1989, again initially from London Gatwick. Here, Sir Richard Branson is pictured in 2009 in Tokyo to mark the 20th anniversary of the route and the start of a new codesharing relationship with All Nippon Airways.
In the first ten years of Virgin’s history, flights to Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Hong Kong also followed. Heathrow is now the base for all of these flights, with London Gatwick now serving leisure destinations such as Las Vegas, Orlando, Cancun and the Caribbean.
1999 saw the launch of flights to Shanghai. This was noteworthy as this was a route launched by Virgin some six years before British Airways obtained regulatory approval to operate the route.
In 2000, Virgin Atlantic launched daily flights to Dehli, as a codeshare with Air India (pictured above at a press conference in 1999).
In 2001, Virgin Atlantic launched a daily flight to Lagos, Nigeria. However, a venture to operate a domestic airline in Nigeria, Virgin Nigeria Airways, was not successful with the airline divesting of its interest and withdrawing the rights to use the Virgin name. The airline subsequently operated under the names Nigerian Eagle Airways and Air Nigeria and ceased operations in 2012.
In December 2004, Virgin Atlantic launched a new route to Sydney (via Hong Kong). This was a route long sought after by Virgin.
Whilst Sydney’s chutzpah and Virgin’s confidence seem well suited (as illustrated by the pictures above) unfortunately, the route has not survived the changing dynamics of the global aviation industry, specifically the rise of Middle Eastern carriers and the route was suspended earlier this year. British Airways is now the only European airline to fly to Australia and Qantas has reduced the number of flights to Europe by more than half over the past five years.
Virgin Group continues to have an interest in Australia through Virgin Australia, also owned by Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways and Air New Zealand.
2005 saw the launch of flights to Mumbai, along with a number of other European carriers. This was the second city to be served in India after Dehli. The route was subsequently suspended and Virgin Atlantic returned to Mumbai (with better timings for connections to East Coast bound flights) in 2012.
In 2006, Virgin Atlantic launched its inaugural flight to Dubai. The airline continues to serve the city today, in spite of strong competition from Emirates which serves the city five times a day, all with Airbus A380 aircraft.
Chicago has been something of a difficult route for Virgin and an indicator that, until its nascent partnership with Delta, it had reached the ceiling of routes in the US it could serve with its current fleet. The route was cancelled in the aftermath of 9/11. Virgin relaunched the route in 2007, but could not sustain it all year round, the route currently operates on a seasonal basis.
Here’s a Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-400 pictured at San Francisco airport. San Francisco is also the home of Virgin America, in which Virgin Group holds a minority interest. Virgin America was originally founded in 2004, but did not launch operations until 2007 after much opposition from US airlines.
In 2013, Virgin Atlantic launched flights to Scotland (Aberdeen and Edinburgh) under the “Little Red” brand, using leased aircraft from Aer Lingus, principally to provide feeder traffic for long-haul flights from London Heathrow. The slots were obtained from British Airways which had to make them available as a condition of its purchase of bmi from Lufthansa. Whilst anecdotal evidence of the performance of “Little Red” varies, Virgin remains confident that it will be a success.