During the past few months we have seen quite a few exciting news stories about Virgin Atlantic; a British airline flying only international routes with wide-body aircraft. In April we first saw the interior of their brand-new Airbus A350-1000, featuring the reverse-herringbone Business Class product. In June we saw that Virgin Atlantic had ordered 14 Airbus A330-900s, with options for six more during the 2019 Paris Airshow. In August we saw that Virgin Atlantic added their second operational route for their Airbus A350-1000.
It seems like Virgin Atlantic is working hard to elevate their passenger experience and expand their fleet at the same time. While they are obviously planning something, you would not believe how massive their expansion plan is!
London Heathrow’s Third Runway
London Heathrow reached its designed capacity a long time ago, since then every carrier has been trying their best to get an expensive time slot there.
Last year, after decades of debate, on 25th June 2018, the House of Commons voted 415-119 in favour of the third runway. Earlier this year, more details came out and the new runway will merge into operation from 2026. We can expect an additional 700 flights daily by that time.
Virgin Atlantic’s Impressive Plan
With about 55% of the Heathrow slots in hand, British Airways already covers more than 200 destinations in 75 countries. That makes their expansion with the new runway fairly limited. However, an airline that is currently blocked heavily by the slot problem, Virgin Atlantic, is trying to take this opportunity to become a much larger airline than it currently is.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity presented to Virgin Atlantic once a third runway is built. Our ambition is to assume the role of Britain’s second flag carrier. That can only be achieved aided by changes in the way slots will be allocated.”Virgin Atlantic told the media recently in an interview in London.
So, how are they planning to do so? It seems like before any actual moves happen, Virgin Atlantic has done all their planning for their intended routes over the next few years, probably even decades. Let us take a look.
Currently, the 19 destinations they are flying to include: Atlanta USA, Boston USA, Delhi India, Havana Cuba, Hong Kong China; Johannesburg South Africa, Lagos Nigeria, Las Vegas USA, Los Angeles USA, Miami USA, Mumbai India, Newark USA, New York JFK USA, San Francisco USA, São Paulo Brazil, Seattle USA, Shanghai China, Tel Aviv Israel and Washington DC USA.
With the new runway available, Virgin Atlantic is going to fly to:
|Aberdeen, Britain||Abu Dhabi, UAE||Accra, Ghana|
|Addis Ababa, Ethiopia||Amsterdam, Netherlands||Athens, Greece|
|Atlanta, USA||Auckland, New Zealand||Austin, USA|
|Bangalore, India||Barcelona, Spain||Basel, Switzerland|
|Beijing, China||Beirut, Lebanon||Belfast City, Britain|
|Berlin (Tegel), Germany||Bogota, Colombia||Boston, USA|
|Brussels, Belgium||Budapest, Hungary||Buenos Aires, Argentina|
|Calgary, Canada||Cape Town, South Africa||Chicago, USA|
|Cologne, Germany||Copenhagen, Denmark||Cork, Ireland|
|Delhi, India||Denver, USA||Dublin, Ireland|
|Dusseldorf, Germany||Edinburgh, Britain||Exeter, Britain|
|Fortaleza, Brazil||Frankfurt, Germany||Geneva, Switzerland|
|Glasgow, Britain||Gothenburg, Sweden||Guernsey, Britain|
|Hamburg, Germany||Havana, Cuba||Helsinki, Finland|
|Hong Kong, China||Inverness, Britain||Istanbul, Turkey|
|Jakarta, Indonesia||Jersey, Britain||Johannesburg, South Africa|
|Karachi, Pakistan||Kolkata, India||Kunming, China|
|Lagos, Nigeria||Las Vegas, USA||Lima, Peru|
|Lisbon, Portugal||Liverpool, Britain||Los Angeles, USA|
|Luxembourg, Luxembourg||Lyon, France||Madrid, Spain|
|Manchester, Britain||Mexico City, Mexico||Miami, USA|
|Milan, Italy||Moscow, Russia||Mumbai, India|
|Munich, Germany||Nairobi, Kenya||Newark, USA|
|New York JFK, USA||Newcastle, Britain||Newquay, Britain|
|Nice, France||Orlando, USA||Osaka, Japan|
|Oslo, Norway||Panama City, Panama||Paris, France|
|Prague, Czech Republic||Raleigh Durham, USA||Rome (Fiumicino), Italy|
|Rotterdam, Holland||San Diego, USA||San Francisco, USA|
|Santiago, Chile||São Paulo, Brazil||Seattle, USA|
|Seoul, South Korea||Shanghai, China||Singapore, Singapore|
|Stockholm (Arlanda), Sweden||Stuttgart, Germany||Sydney, Australia|
|Tel Aviv, Israel||Tokyo (Haneda), Japan||Toronto, Canada|
|Toulouse, France||Vancouver, Canada||Vienna, Austria|
|Warsaw, Poland||Washington DC, USA||Xi’an, China|
103 in total and 84 of them are new. To be specific, 12 of the new routes would be domestic, 37 would be within Europe and 35 would be across the world.
Are These Real?
It is extremely rare to see an international airline announcing a dozen new routes at the same, but never the 84 as in Virgin’s case. For now, in the short term, announcing these routes all together is just a marketing campaign which is asking for a lot of Heathrow slots. But as a long-term plan, most parts of it actually make sense and may become a reality in the far future.
Virgin Atlantic tried short-haul flights before, to get more connecting passengers on those long-haul flights. From 2013 to 2015 it operated an airline called Little Red, flying four Airbus A320s leased from Aer Lingus on domestic routes. The airline lost a considerable amount of money and had to suspend the plan.
That does not mean they are giving up on short-haul flights. Earlier this year Virgin Atlantic bought a share of FlyBe, a local airline with a good amount of flights in Manchester and London. By taking FlyBe and some other potential small airlines in the future, expanding to so many domestic and European flights does not seem impossible.
For those long-haul flights, we have already seen Virgin Atlantic interested in the London to Australia flight last year. With the range of planes getting further in the future, completing such flights may become possible for airlines other than Qantas.
If this expansion actually comes true, it will be a huge benefit for passengers. Ticket prices to many destinations are nearly dominated by British Airways at the moment. With a new competitor, we can expect these prices to become lower.
The main reason Virgin Atlantic is spreading this news about its expansion plans at this time is to use it as a marketing campaign to get more slots in Heathrow. However we can still see some of their actual plans, such as establishing short-haul domestic and European flights to get connecting passengers.
Do you want to see more Virgin Atlantic flights flying out of London Heathrow?