Virgin Atlantic is ending its partnership with Air China.
Currently members of the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club can earn miles when flying on Air China, as well as redeem miles on Air China flights.
This will end from Monday 16 March 2020. Virgin Atlantic Flying Club members who have made redemption bookings on Air China up to 16 March 2020 will still have their bookings honoured.
Flying Club members will also be able to make retrospective mileage claims in respect of flights taken on Air China before 16 March 2020 up to six months after the date of travel.
Virgin Atlantic also codeshares on Air China’s flights from London Heathrow to Beijing as well as on local routes from Shanghai. The Virgin Atlantic website currently indicates that these will also end from 16 March 2020.
At 35 years of age, Virgin Atlantic is going through another period of reinvention.
For a time, under the guiding hand of Delta, it seemed that Virgin was destined to a return to its roots as a North American focused carrier.
Now, it has reignited its ambitions to be a second major player at London Heathrow with an eye on a substantial number of slots should a third runway ever be built at Heathrow. This is a long way off for a number of reasons. However, with Virgin having reinstated Mumbai and launched Tel Aviv at Heathrow this year, the airline has clearly returned to a growth trajectory.
Here’s what you can expect from Virgin Atlantic in terms of fleet, routes, joint-ventures and lounges in 2020.
Virgin Atlantic continues to transition towards a twin-engined long-haul fleet.
This year, it disposed of one Boeing 747-400 aircraft (G-VBIG) and four Airbus A340-600 aircraft (G-VBUG, G-VRED, G-VWEB, G-VYOU).
At present, just three Airbus A340-600 aircraft are left in service (G-VFIT, G-VNAP, G-VWIN).
Virgin Atlantic has taken delivery of four of its order of twelve Airbus A350-1000 aircraft (G-VJAM, G-VLUX, G-VPOP, G-VPRD) with all remaining aircraft due to be delivered by 2021.
Currently, the Airbus A350-1000 aircraft is operating exclusively from London Heathrow to New York JFK on the following flights: VS3 / VS4; VS9 / VS10; VS45 / VS46; and VS137 / VS138.
Virgin plans to operate the Airbus A350 from London Heathrow to Johannesburg from Sunday 29 March 2020 (Flights VS449 / VS450).
The A350 will also operate to Los Angeles from Sunday 19 April 2020 (Flights VS23 / VS24), San Francisco from Friday 15 May 2020 (Flights VS19 / VS20), and Lagos from Saturday 1 / Sunday 2 August 2020 (VS411 / VS412).
Virgin’s original plan was to have fully replaced its long-haul fleet by 2021, but given ongoing issues with Boeing 787 Dreamliner engines are to continue well into 2020, this may be delayed.
Virgin will launch a new route from London Heathrow to Sao Paulo on Sunday 29 March 2020.
To support this, Virgin has also announced a new codeshare partnership with GOL. However, given Delta has recently acquired a 20% stake in LATAM, which is due to leave the Oneworld alliance, this may well be ultimately replaced by a partnership with LATAM which also serves Sao Paulo from London Heathrow.
Virgin will also add a second daily flight to Delhi from Sunday 29 March 2020 with an early morning departure (Flights VS302 / VS303) to complement its existing daily service.
Seattle will gain four weekly flights from Sunday 29 March 2020 (Flights VS167 / VS168) for the summer season, taking the total number of return flights to 11 a week. Los Angeles will also gain three weekly flights for the summer season (Flights VS143 / VS144), taking the total number of return flights to 17 a week.
Virgin will also, after a long hiatus, reinstate London Gatwick – New York JFK from Sunday 21 May 2020 (Flights VS193 / VS194). Virgin’s transatlantic joint-venture partner Delta will also add London Gatwick – Boston from Monday 8 June 2020.
Also at Gatwick, Virgin will suspend St Lucia from Monday 8 June 2020. Flights from Gatwick to Antigua will increase from 3 to 4 times weekly. Flights to Grenada and Tobago that are currently routed through St Lucia will be routed through Antigua.
Virgin will also transfer its twice weekly service to Havana from Gatwick to Heathrow, where it will operate from Tuesday 9 June 2020 under new flight numbers VS147 / VS148.
From an as yet unspecified date in early 2020, Air France-KLM, Delta and Virgin Atlantic are expected to launch a combined transatlantic joint-venture.
At present, Virgin only operates a transatlantic codeshare with Air France and KLM. When the new joint-venture launches Virgin will be able to co-ordinate schedules with Air France and KLM. Air France-KLM was also due to acquire a 31% stake in Virgin Atlantic, but this will now not go ahead and Virgin Group will retain control of the airline.
Air France-KLM and Virgin have previously indicated further co-operation such as co-location at London Heathrow and co-operation on other long-haul routes. Air France-KLM clearly have significantly more coverage of regions such as Africa and Asia than Virgin Atlantic. However, it is unclear whether this is affected by Air France-KLM not taking a stake in Virgin Atlantic.
Delta and Virgin Atlantic are to launch two new routes from London Gatwick to Boston and & New York from May 2020.
Virgin Atlantic will fly from Gatwick to New York JFK from Thursday 21 May 2020. Flights will be operated with an Airbus A330-200 aircraft.
Delta will fly from Gatwick to Boston from Friday 22 May 2020. Flights will operated with Boeing 757 aircraft.
Both routes will operate daily. This is in fact a return to New York JFK for Virgin Atlantic at Gatwick as it served the route from September 1989 before it moved to London Heathrow in July 1991.
Heathrow Schedule Changes
Delta & Virgin Atlantic have also confirmed the following changes to joint-services from London Heathrow from Sunday 29 March 2020.
Delta will take over one of Virgin Atlantic’s six daily frequencies from Heathrow to New York JFK, increasing Delta’s flights to New York JFK to three times daily. Delta’s return flight from New York JFK will operate as a day flight, complementing Virgin’s existing day flight.
Virgin Atlantic will increase frequencies from Heathrow to Los Angeles and Seattle. Flights to Los Angeles will increase from 14 to 17 times weekly. Flights to Seattle will increase from 7 to 11 times weekly. Los Angeles will also be the second destination after New York JFK to be operated with the new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft.
All Delta flights between Heathrow and New York JFK and Boston will be fitted with refurbished Boeing 767-400 aircraft featuring its “Delta One” business class cabin and its new premium economy cabin, Delta Premium Select.
The times of the new flights are as follows:
Depart London Gatwick 10:30 – Arrive Boston 13:20 Depart Boston 21:00 – Arrive London Gatwick 08:45
Depart London Gatwick 12:55 – Arrive New York JFK 15:40 Depart New York JFK 19:30 – Arrive London Gatwick 07:50
Depart London Heathrow 07:30 – Arrive New York JFK 10:30 Depart New York JFK 10:15 – Arrive London Heathrow 22:25
Flights are not yet on sale, but should be shortly.
Air France-KLM, Delta and Virgin Atlantic have received tentative approval from the US Department of Transportation to combine the two transatlantic joint-ventures between Delta and Air France-KLM and Delta and Virgin Atlantic into one.
There had been strong objections from JetBlue which is seeking access to London Heathrow and a number of other European airports.
The Department of Transportation largely dismissed these concerns, but acknowledged concerns about the joint-venture’s presence at Amsterdam Schipol airport.
The Department of Transportation proposes that the airlines report annually on the progress of their co-operation and provide a detailed self-assessment after five years.
The next stage is for interested parties to make submissions to the US Department of Transportation before it issues a final decision.
Regulatory approval has been a long time coming. At present, Air France-KLM and Virgin Atlantic only have a limited codesharing agreement. Once regulatory approval is granted, the two airlines will pursue much greater co-operation.
This is likely to involve co-ordination of schedules and routes, co-location at airports (including possibly London Heathrow) and full reciprocal frequent flyer recognition.
Air France-KLM and Virgin Atlantic may also pursue greater co-operation on flights outside North America where clearly Air France-KLM has a significantly greater presence:
When the combined joint-venture is implemented Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group will also cede control of Virgin Atlantic by selling a 31% stake to Air France-KLM – a largely symbolic, but still historically significant move. This has already been approved by the European Commission and it will leave Delta as the single largest shareholder in Virgin Atlantic with a 49% stake.
Virgin Atlantic has announced a series of network changes affecting routes to the Caribbean at London Gatwick.
These take effect from Monday 8 June 2020.
Virgin Atlantic’s route to Havana, currently twice weekly, will move from Gatwick to Heathrow.
Virgin will suspend services to St Lucia, currently three times weekly, after 21 years.
Flights from Gatwick to Antigua will increase from 3 to 4 times weekly. Flights to Grenada and Tobago that are currently routed through St Lucia will be routed through Antigua.
A revised timetable has not yet been released by Virgin.
With Virgin having suspended Cancun and already moved Las Vegas to Heathrow, this does leave it with a diminishing presence at Gatwick. Meanwhile Heathrow is growing with the planned return to Mumbai and launch of Sao Paulo.
Virgin Atlantic has ordered 14 Airbus A330neo aircraft.
The announcement was made today, Monday 17 June 2019, at the Paris air show.
It is intended that the 14 Airbus A330-900 aircraft will be delivered to the airline from 2021. They will operate at Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester and will replace Virgin’s current fleet of Airbus A330 aircraft.
Eight of the aircraft will be owned by the airline. Six will be leased from a third party lessor. Virgin also has options for a further 6 aircraft. The aircraft will be powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines.
The Airbus A330-900 has a range of 7,200 nautical miles and is designed to accommodate 260-300 passengers.
Virgin Atlantic’s 49% shareholder Delta Air Lines has 35 of the aircraft on order. The aircraft is currently in service at TAP Air Portugal, which will have 19 of the aircraft in its fleet by the end of this year. Other airlines to have placed significant orders include Air Asia X which will take delivery of its first aircraft later this month.
Virgin Atlantic is to return to Mumbai for the third time with the relaunch of flights from London Heathrow from Sunday 27 October 2019.
Virgin Atlantic and Mumbai has a long history.
Virgin first launched flights from London Heathrow to Mumbai following the liberalisation of services between the UK and India in 2005. This saw a number of airlines, such as bmi British Midland, enter the market and the route was suspended.
The route was launched again in 2012 with different timings in the hope of capturing connecting traffic to Virgin’s North America route network. It was suspended for a second time in 2015 as part of a wide-ranging reshaping of Virgin’s route network towards North American routes.
Since then, Virgin had relied on a codeshare with Jet Airways to serve Mumbai, and following its recent collapse Virgin has now reinstated the route.
This, together with the launch of Tel Aviv and Sao Paulo, does point to Virgin seeking to move beyond North American routes at London Heathrow. What may work in Virgin’s favour this time is a potential future codeshare partnership with Air France and KLM.
Flights will be operated with a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft and will go on sale at Virgin Atlantic from Tuesday 28 May 2019.
London Heathrow – Mumbai
Depart London Heathrow 10:15 – Arrive Mumbai 00:40 Depart Mumbai 02:55 – Arrive London Heathrow 07:35
Virgin expects to report a further loss this year, and to “broadly break even” in 2020 before returning to profit in 2021. Three years is of course a very long time in aviation.
In contrast, BA reported an operating profit of £1,952m and its parent company International Airlines Group reported an operating profit of €3,230m for 2018. By any measure this is a stark divergence in financial performance, even when accounting for the relative size of the two airlines.
BA of course benefits from its transatlantic joint-venture with American Airlines and signifiant cost and revenue synergies with fellow member airlines of International Airlines Group.
Virgin is taking a number of steps to turn around its financial performance.
It will replace its last remaining quad engine Airbus A340 and Boeing 747 aircraft with the Airbus A350-1000 from this year. Delta, which owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic, is to combine its transatlantic joint-venture with Virgin with its joint-venture with Air France-KLM. As part of this, Air France-KLM will acquire a 31% stake in Virgin and will explore broader co-operation beyond transatlantic routes.
Virgin is, after a period of focusing on North America, return to growth with the launch of Sao Paulo and Tel Aviv. The airline has also, through a consortium, acquired Flybe.
Key to the turn around of Virgin’s fortunes will be the need to work with Delta and Air France-KLM to create a strong rival to the American Airlines and British Airways joint-venture for both corporate customers and frequent flyers.
This is unlikely to escape the attention of American and BA which are likely to launch more new direct routes from London Heathrow and look at ground service improvements at Heathrow.
Virgin Atlantic has unveiled its new “Upper Class” business class cabin which will feature on its new Airbus A350-1000 aircraft.
This is the first major redesign of Virgin Atlantic’s business class cabin since it introduced the Upper Class Suite in 2003 with its reverse herringbone design.
Like the Upper Class Suite, all seats benefit from direct access to the aisle. However, that is where the similarity ends. This is a radically new design with forward facing seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. Whilst this has been adopted by many airlines one significant difference is that all seats face outwards towards the window, whereas on other airlines centre seats tend to face inwards.
The seat is 20″ wide and is 82″ long at its full length. This is 3″ longer than BA’s new Club Suite. All seats benefit from improved, albeit not complete, privacy as the seat has a sliding screen. There is also greater personal storage at shoulder level and a larger 18.5″ TV screen. Significantly for Virgin, it is no longer necessary to step out of the seat to “flip it over” from seat to bed mode.
There will be 44 Upper Class seats on the first Airbus A350s for London Heathrow. Like the existing BA Club World and Virgin Upper Class seats there are differences in configuration and style and much of these will be a personal preference.
Virgin also promises improved bedding and toiletries, with the added ability to pre-order pyjamas in your preferred size.
As is to expected from Virgin Atlantic the cabin features its signature colour scheme. A word of caution when judging the exact colour scheme from official press shots. Some early images provided to some outlets looked like they had slightly different colour schemes and whether intentionally or otherwise this looks to be the work of Adobe Photoshop’s auto processing tools!
The Upper Class bar is no more
One of the biggest changes is that Virgin has abandoned its signature Upper Class bar.
This will be replaced by an 8 seat lounge area dubbed “The Loft” at the entrance to the aircraft. This features a dedicated 32″ TV screen, with the ability to listen to its audio via bluetooth headphones, and a small stand-up work area.
Premium & Economy
Also on Virgin’s A350-1000 aircraft are new Premium (formerly premium economy) and economy cabins.
There will be 56 new Premium seats in a 2-4-2 configuration.
Passengers will benefit from a larger 11.4″ TV screen which can be controlled without the need to press against the screen.
In economy, there are 235 seats in 3-3-3 configuration. 36 of these seats will be “Economy Delight” seats with 34″ of legroom. As is to expected, all seats will have at seat power and USB charging ports.
In total there will be 335 seats (44-56-235) on Virgin’s Airbus A350-1000s at Heathrow. This compares to 331 (56-56-219) on BA’s Airbus A350-1000s.
Virgin Airbus A350 Routes
Virgin has said that its first Airbus A350s will fly to New York JFK from the summer.
This may focus BA’s mind when choosing which routes will operate with four class Boeing 777-200s retrofitted with the new Club Suite as these aircraft already operate on some flights to New York JFK. History has shown that new business class cabins can have a significant impact on market share.
Delta and Virgin Atlantic have announced that the two airlines are to jointly fly from London Gatwick to Boston and New York JFK from 2020.
There’s a curious lack of detail in the announcement. Neither Delta nor Virgin Atlantic have confirmed which airlines will operating the routes, though Delta’s press release intimates that it will operate at least one of the routes. There’s also no mention of whether this will be a seasonal or year-round route, nor which aircraft will be used. In any event, eligible passengers will benefit from Virgin Atlantic ground facilities at Gatwick such as its Clubhouse in the North Terminal.
For Delta, this will mark a return to London Gatwick which it first served on 1 May 1978 flying to New Orleans via Atlanta using a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar aircraft. Virgin Atlantic launched daily flights from Gatwick to New York JFK in September 1989, and Boston in May 1991, before transferring both routes to London Heathrow after securing access to the airport in July 1991.
It is no accident that this announcement has been made ahead of a press event next week JetBlue which is expected to unveil plans to launch transatlantic flights to Europe. JetBlue has made no secret of its plans to launch transatlantic flights. It has been lobbying US regulatory authorities for slots at London Heathrow to be released as condition of Delta merging its transatlantic joint-ventures with Air France-KLM and Virgin Atlantic into one. However, this has yet to be concluded.
Boston is currently served from Gatwick by Norwegian. New York JFK is also served by BA and Norwegian. Whilst Delta is keen to emphasise its overall strength in Boston, London – Boston is a very important route for BA. Given BA serves Boston four times daily from Heathrow it would be surprising if it did not make a similar competitive response, should JetBlue announce plans to fly to Boston from Gatwick. These moves will of course place significant competitive pressure on Norwegian at Gatwick. JetBlue’s announcement on Wednesday 10 April 2019 is eagerly awaited.