Air France-KLM and Virgin Atlantic have started to roll out reciprocal codeshares on each other’s transatlantic networks.
The two airline groups are currently awaiting regulatory approval to combine their respective transatlantic joint-ventures with Delta into one.
Ahead of regulatory approval, Virgin Atlantic is now offering transatlantic flights on its website from UK airports via Air France-KLM hubs in Amsterdam and Paris Charles de Gaulle.
This is potentially useful when wanting to fly to Canada, which Virgin Atlantic does not serve, and wanting to avoid transiting in a US airport. It also provides for substantially more options for Virgin Atlantic passengers flying from UK regional airports, where Air France and KLM coverage is extensive.
As these have only just launched it may take a few days before codeshares are fully rolled out and all route and fare class options are available. At the time of writing the Air France website is offering Virgin Atlantic flights from London, but KLM is not.
Members of the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club can also earn miles and tier points when flying on Air France and KLM flights that are sold under Virgin Atlantic flight numbers, as per guidance from Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Atlantic is to launch a new route from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv from Monday 25 September 2019.
Flights will operate daily and the route will be operated with an Airbus A330 aircraft.
It is relatively rare for Virgin to launch a route to a destination outside the US. Indeed, many non-US routes have been suspended in recent years in favour of increased flights to the US. Tel Aviv is also a destination already well served from London by BA, easyJet and El Al. However, this route is likely to have been chosen to pick up feeder traffic to Delta and Virgin flights to the US.
When Air France-KLM and Virgin combine their respective transatlantic joint-ventures with Delta, it will also benefit from joint-marketing by Air France and KLM.
Virgin Atlantic has not yet officially confirmed the schedule, but local media report an afternoon departure from London Heathrow and an early morning departure from Tel Aviv, subject to seasonal changes.
London Heathrow – Tel Aviv
Flight VS453 Depart London Heathrow 13:30 – Arrive Tel Aviv 20:35
Flight VS454 Depart Tel Aviv 07:15 – Arrive London Heathrow 11:10
From Sunday 27 October 2019:
Flight VS453 Depart London Heathrow 16:00 – Arrive Tel Aviv 23:05
Flight VS454 Depart Tel Aviv 06:05 – Arrive London Heathrow 09:55
A consortium including Virgin Atlantic has made an offer to buy the airline Flybe.
Flybe announced last year that it had put itself up for sale and Virgin Atlantic had made known its interest in the airline.
The consortium also includes Stobart Aviation, which operates flights under the Flybe franchise, and Cyrus Capital Partners. Stobart Group had launched an unsuccessful takeover bid for Flybe last year.
Cyrus Capital will be the single largest shareholder, owning 40% of the consortium. Stobart Aviation and Virgin Atlantic will each own 30% of the consortium.
The transaction is subject to approval by Flybe’s shareholders. In theory, another bid could be forthcoming. However, this is unlikely. Any bid by International Airlines Group would require competition remedies at London Heathrow and BA seems happy with the performance of BA CityFlyer at London City.
This bid offers little to Flybe’s shareholders. On its first day on the stock exchange in December 2010, Flybe’s share price closed at 341¼p, valuing the airline at £249m. Yesterday, Flybe shares closed at 16.4p, valuing the airline at £36m. This offer is for substantially less, at 1p a share, valuing the airline at £2.2m. However, it does provide for a relatively dignified and orderly exit.
As part of the transaction the consortium will also acquire Stobart Air. The combined Flybe and Stobart Air operation will operate under the Virgin Atlantic brand. However, it will remain an independent airline from Virgin Atlantic. Operating under the Virgin brand is not without risk if there are issues with reliability and punctuality.
The consortium has also agreed to provide a £20m bridge loan to support Flybe’s operations pending the acquisition and to invest £80m of further funding after the acquisition.
Stobart Air does provide wet leased aircraft to other airlines, including rivals of Virgin Atlantic, and this will continue to operate.
Whilst the offer document makes much of the ability to feed Virgin Atlantic at London Heathrow and Manchester, and grow short-haul flights at London Southend, it says much less about operations at other UK regional airports which are heavily dependent on Flybe for traffic. Flybe is by some margin the single largest airline at many UK regional airports, including Exeter and Southampton. Continue reading “Virgin Atlantic Consortium Bids To Buy Flybe”
As Virgin Atlantic approaches its 35th year, it remains a very strong brand in the UK. However, profitability in recent years has proved elusive.
The airline reported a loss for 2017. Next year, there will be a number of significant changes to improve its financial performance. Here’s a quick run through of what to expect.
Air France-KLM & Delta
Virgin and its 49% shareholder Delta are in the process of securing regulatory approval to combine their transatlantic joint-venture with that of Delta and Air France-KLM.
The primarily intention is to make the combined joint-venture much more competitive against American Airlines and BA.
This is particularly because Air France and KLM can offer many destinations in Asia and Africa not served by Virgin (or indeed BA). KLM in particular also has extensive coverage of UK regional airports and can offer many connection opportunities not offered by Virgin (or again BA in some cases).
This is likely to lead to extensive reciprocal codesharing between Virgin Atlantic and Air France and KLM. Virgin may also pursue greater co-operation with Air France and KLM on non-transatlantic routes. Subject to space, Air France and KLM may also co-locate with Virgin Atlantic in Terminal 3 at London Heathrow.
As part of this, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group will cede control of the airline, by selling a 31% stake to Air France-KLM. This will leave Delta as the single largest shareholder.
Sir Richard Branson has long had little involvement in the day-to-day running of the airline. However, this is symbolic as Virgin Atlantic has been the one business he has previously resisted ceding control of.
Separate to these changes, Virgin’s CEO Craig Kreeger will retire on 1 January and be replaced by an internal appointment, Shai Weiss. Shai is currently Chief Commercial Officer and and has been with the airline since July 2014.
A rare moment of good news for passengers facing uncertainty over the Christmas travel period.
Virgin Atlantic has successfully obtained an injunction at the High Court to prevent a series of strikes by pilots represented by the Professional Pilots Union.
The Professional Pilots Union represents approximately 30% of Virgin Atlantic pilots.
The first strike was due to take place from Saturday 22 December to Tuesday 25 December 2018. Further strikes were planned for Sunday 30 December to Wednesday 2 January and Friday 4 January to Monday 7 January 2019.
On the basis that Virgin has obtained an injunction based on the manner on which the union conducted the ballot, it is assumed that no further strikes will go ahead under the current ballot mandate.
Following Sky News’ exclusive report on Thursday evening, Virgin Atlantic has confirmed it is in discussions about a possible bid to buy Flybe.
Flybe announced a little over a week ago that it had put itself up for sale and has appointed advisors to manage the process.
At the outset there are some caveats.
When a business announces it is up for sale, it is to be expected that many parties will come forward to have a good look at the books. Few will ultimately submit a bid.
Ordinarily, their identities are supposed to be confidential. When prospective purchasers are leaked to the media, it is usually deliberate and for a reason. More names may appear in the press this weekend.
Given Virgin’s existing codeshare relationship and the potential impact of a change in ownership it is to be expected that Virgin will take an active interest in the process.
With Virgin’s track record you could be forgiven this was simply a means of generating press coverage. When Lufthansa sold bmi seven years ago Virgin made a lot of noise about making a bid. It was not seen by Lufthansa as anywhere near as credible as the bid by International Airlines Group. So much so that the only alternative was liquidating the airline.
However, the fact that Virgin has appointed Rothschild to advise suggests it is serious in its intent.
Why would an exclusively long-haul airline want to buy a regional airline that barely touches the airports it serves?
Virgin Atlantic and Flybe
Virgin Atlantic does have an existing codeshare relationship with Flybe.
It relies on Flybe to provide short-haul feed, principally at Heathrow and Manchester. Flybe’s routes from Heathrow to Aberdeen and Edinburgh use remedy slots released by BA as a condition of its merger with bmi. Virgin tried unsuccessfully to use these slots itself, wet leasing aircraft from Aer Lingus under the brand “Little Red”. Should Flybe withdraw from Heathrow for any reason, these would revert back to BA.
There is another factor: Air France-KLM. It is due to take a stake in Virgin next year. Air France-KLM and Virgin will combine their respective transatlantic joint-ventures with Delta into one to compete more effectively with American Airlines and BA. Air France relies on Flybe to provide feed to Paris Charles de Gaulle from some UK regional airports. Flybe’s UK regional network could be optimised to feed all four airlines.
That said, there are a lot of things that don’t make sense.
Virgin is loss-making and has much else to do next year. Long-haul and short-haul regional operations are radically different. Flybe has substantial operations at airports of little strategic interest, Cardiff, Exeter, London City, Norwich, Southampton. A lot of politically unpopular decisions would have to be made. If Virgin wants to acquire more short-haul feed at Heathrow and Manchester – and this is the dilemma facing any potential purchaser – there are other ways to go about it than buying Flybe.
Expect this to run and run over the next few months.
Next year, Virgin Atlantic will take delivery of the first of 12 Airbus A350-1000 aircraft.
These will operate at Gatwick and Heathrow and are intended to replace all of its remaining 8 Boeing 747-400 aircraft which operate principally from Gatwick, and its Airbus A340 aircraft at Heathrow.
The first three Airbus A350-1000 aircraft are currently in production at Airbus in Toulouse. The first aircraft, registration G-VLUX, will be delivered in early 2019 and will operate from London Heathrow. All aircraft are expected to be delivered by the end of 2021.
There will be two configurations for Gatwick and Heathrow. The Gatwick fleet will have seating for up to 410 passengers. The Heathrow fleet will have seating for up to 360 passengers. This compares to a confirmed number of 331 seats for BA’s Airbus A350-1000.
Virgin has not confirmed the first route, but has said it will be a “key” US route. Virgin will be the first operator of the Airbus A350 on direct transatlantic routes from London. An obvious choice is an East Coast destination such as Boston or New York as it’s relatively short and there is back-up if there are operational problems. The inaugural Boeing 787 route in 2014 was Boston. It should be noted that there may be gaps in the first passenger Airbus A350-1000 flights if additional crew familiarisation flights – which operate without passengers – are necessary.
Virgin has promised innovations in all cabins, economy, Premium and Upper Class. It has promised an entirely new Upper Class suite. This will be the first radical redesign since the Upper Class suite was introduced in 2003.
BA is also expected to take delivery of its first Airbus A350-1000 in July 2019 and has also promised a radical redesign of its Club World cabin. This is the first time both airlines are introducing a new aircraft type and a new business class cabin within a matter of months in the same year. Both airlines have long-standing and quite radically different business class configurations, each with their own advantages and trade-offs. It is going to be interesting to see how they compare and how both airlines differentiate themselves – in terms of both actual design and PR. Both airlines have remained tight-lipped about their exact designs.
A combination of improved cabin comfort on the Airbus A350-1000 and the latest seat designs should certainly make it the preferred aircraft for transatlantic flights.
Update April 2019
Virgin Atlantic has confirmed that the first Airbus A350-1000 route will be New York JFK. It has also unveiled the new Upper Class cabin.
Virgin Atlantic has launched a new TV advertising campaign under the banner of “Depart The Everyday”.
Filmed in a mock-up Virgin Atlantic aircraft cabin, you see passengers depart a dreary and overcast UK and enter into a surrealist world in all three cabins at 38,000 feet.
The aircraft hold is a ball pool. Passengers dance on the ceiling. The air vents dispense rainbow ice cream. Of course, no Virgin Atlantic TV advertisement would be complete without a shot of its signature Upper Class bar and suite. It exudes Virgin Atlantic’s characteristic self-confidence.
Virgin Atlantic & Virgin Group have today, Monday 20 August 2018, announced they are to launch a new group loyalty programme in 2019.
At present, Virgin Group and Virgin Atlantic have separate loyalty programmes. Virgin Group operates Virgin Red which issues points for customers of numerous Virgin branded businesses. The rewards are relatively modest, such as free WiFi on Virgin Trains. Virgin Atlantic also operates its own frequent flyer programme Virgin Flying Club.
In 2019, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Group will launch a new, and as yet unnamed, programme. It will adopt Virgin Flying Club miles as its currency.
The New Programme
Details of the new programme are scant at the moment. Virgin Atlantic has provided a brief update for its Flying Club members.
Delta and Virgin Atlantic have operated a joint-venture between the UK and USA since 2013 and wish to combine this with Delta’s joint-venture with Air France-KLM. Delta owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic. When the joint-venture completes, Air France KLM will acquire a stake in Virgin Atlantic from Virgin Group, making Delta the single largest shareholder.
– The airlines have expressed a desire to co-locate at London Heathrow. Given Virgin Atlantic’s significant investment at Terminal 3, this would most likely mean Air France and KLM moving from Terminal 4 to 3.
– Virgin Atlantic will codeshare on Air France and KLM flights from UK airports to their respective hubs in Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam.
– Virgin Atlantic will also codeshare on Air France and KLM flights around the world, thus offering significantly more booking options to Virgin Atlantic passengers.
– Virgin Atlantic will retain its own frequent flyer programme, but with earning and redemption opportunities on Air France and KLM flights.
In practice, this is likely to be rolled out progressively and codeshares may only be available for certain routings, eg when connecting to/from certain destinations covered by the joint-venture.
Competing Against American Airlines and British Airways
A clear theme is a desire/need for Virgin Atlantic and Delta to be a stronger competitor against BA and Oneworld at London Heathrow and in the UK market, particularly for corporate customers and frequent flyers.
The combined joint-venture sees it itself as a much stronger competitor in UK regional airports such as Manchester and Glasgow where it can offer both direct flights to the US and connections via Amsterdam and Paris Charles de Gaulle.
Air France and KLM can also compensate for Virgin’s relatively weak non-US network where it can offer codeshares to a very large number of worldwide destinations. Indeed, Air France and KLM serve very many destinations in Africa and Asia that are not served by BA.
As Virgin Atlantic reported a loss in 2017, achieving higher margin corporate revenue and cost savings from merging back office functions will be critical to its future.
There is a degree of irony in this submission in that BA and KLM did once explore a merger. This was arguably one of the greatest missed opportunities in aviation. The plan for co-operation between Virgin and Air France-KLM was very much that could have been explored between BA and KLM. It will be interesting to see how American Airlines and BA respond, both at Heathrow and at UK regional airports. Continue reading “Air France-KLM, Delta, & Virgin Atlantic’s Joint-Venture Plans”