LONDON – Virgin Atlantic has announced plans for a restart that is due to begin in July.

These restart plans have been expanded in the wake of the airline announcing that passenger services between London Heathrow (LHR) and Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) will begin from July 20.

Additionally, from August 2020, up to 17 destinations will be served in this restart. For now, the following services will be launched from July onwards:

  • London Heathrow-Hong Kong – July 20
  • London Heathrow-New York JFK & Los Angeles – July 21
  • London Heathrow-Barbados – August 1
  • London Heathrow-Shanghai – August 4
  • London Heathrow-San Francisco – August 4
  • London Heathrow-Tel Aviv – August 9
  • London Heathrow-Miami – August 18
  • London Heathrow-Lagos – August 23
  • London Heathrow & Manchester-Orlando – August 24 (Subject to the approval of the Center for Disease Control).
  • London Heathrow-Atlanta – August 25
  • London Heathrow to Washington, Seattle, Las Vegas & Boston – September 2020
  • London Heathrow-Montego Bay, Antigua, Grenada and Tobago (via Antigua) – October 2020
  • Manchester-Barbados – October 2020

The July announcements were made earlier this month but this latest development highlights a far greater expansion.

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330-223 G-VMIK departing Manchester. (Thomas Saunders)

Comments from Virgin Atlantic CCO

Commenting on the news was Virgin’s Chief Commercial Officer Juha Jarvinen who remained please about the restart plans but will be observing any potential lockdowns in the future that may affect operations.

“As countries around the world begin to relax travel restrictions, we look forward to welcoming our customers back onboard and flying them safely to many destinations across our network. From 20th July we are planning to resume some services and then from 1st August onwards, we will resume passenger flying to 17 additional destinations around the world including Tel Aviv, Miami, Lagos and San Francisco”.

“However, we are monitoring external conditions extremely closely, in particular the travel restrictions many countries have in place including the 14 day quarantine policy for travellers entering the UK. We know that as the Covid-19 crisis subsides, air travel will be a vital enabler of the UK’s economic recovery.”

“Therefore, we are calling for UK Government to continually review its quarantine measures and instead look at a multi-layered approach of carefully targeted public health and screening measures, including air bridges, which will support a successful and safe restart of international air travel for passengers and businesses.”

Photo: Mike Burdett

Operations from LHR’s Terminals 2 and 3

The airline noted that flights will operate temporarily from Terminal 2 at LHR due to such terminal consolidation taking place.

Virgin Atlantic was keen to note that services will return to Terminal 3 when demand at the airport begins to grow again.

On top of this, the carrier also stated that the launch of the Heathrow-Orlando route, now penciled in for August 24, had a delay although no clear date for a restart on that route was labeled.

Services that operate on a seasonal basis such as the Glasgow & Belfast operations to Orlando will resume in Summer 2021 with more flights due to be announced from Manchester and LHR beyond September and October 2020.

Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747-41R G-VXLG arriving into Manchester Airport. (Thomas Saunders)

An Effort Towards Paying Refunds

The route launches will be a step in the right direction for Virgin Atlantic as it battles to pay back refunds to passengers.

Earlier this month, UK media outlet The Guardian released a story stating that refunds could take up to four months, with the airline claiming to be paying around £20m back in refunds per week.

Such delays are due to take place due to liquidity issues that the carrier is having as well as due to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) stating that customers are entitled to full cash refunds instead of vouchers that airlines have been trying to offer.

The airline had initially requested a bailout back in April from the UK government but was told it had to find £500m of cash from private investors for this to even be considered.

It even got to the point where Virgin owner Richard Branson placed his own island on the line as collateral.

Photo: Virgin Atlantic

Previous Cuts Made

Virgin Atlantic had announced a plethora of changes to its operation in the post-COVID-19 climate, including the closure of its London Gatwick (LGW) base, the early retirement of the Boeing 747-400, and the reduction of 3,150 jobs earlier last month.

It will be consolidating its London area operation to a single base at London-Heathrow (LHR).

“Like British Airways’ recent announcement, the news from Virgin Atlantic today is sad but unsurprising,” said Nick Wyatt, Head of R&A and Travel & Tourism at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

“It is also eerily similar in terms of the detail: warning of job losses and possible cessation of operations at Gatwick. There is a clear point of commonality: becoming smaller, and this mirrors noises coming from major US carriers American Airlines and Delta,” he added.

Future moves for Virgin

Despite this move, the airline intends to retain all its slot portfolio at LGW, allowing them to return once the demand is there again.

The operations restart will also be welcomed within the carrier as it is a chance to secure some revenues away from the cargo market, the passenger market being the one that the airline mainly thrived ongoing into the U.S.

It will be interesting to see how Virgin responds to the pressures of COVID-19 going forward and whether these routes will provide the important revenue needed to survive going forward.