MIAMI — Flights on Little Red, Virgin Atlantic’s experiment to offer short-haul service, will end in 2015, the carrier has announced. The service, launched in March 2013, was created to offer competition to British Airways on key regional routes.
Virgin Atlantic saw an opportunity to offer passengers an alternative to BA’s short-haul flights with Little Red after the former was required to give up slots as part of its deal to acquire bmi back in October 2012. Using those slots, Little Red operated 12 daily flights from London Heathrow to Manchester, along with Aberdeen and Edinburgh, Scotland, using four Airbus A320s. In comparison, British Airways has 33 Airbus A319s and 41 A320-200s that it runs on UK domestic and European routes.
At its peak, Little Red served more than one million passengers. And that growth continued in 2014, but only for point-to-point flights — not the more lucrative traffic connecting to Virgin’s long-haul flights.
On September 3, Virgin Atlantic announced plans to grow to record levels of sustained profitability by 2018 through a combination of more service to the U.S. and cuts in other cities around the globe, including Tokyo-Narita, Mumbai, Vancouver and Cape Town. In a statement then, Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Craig Kreeger emphasized the carrier’s plan to be profitable in the long term and fly on the routes passengers want to fly most. “Transatlantic flying has always been at the heart of our network and our most financially successful region,” he said at the time.
In today’s announcement, Kreeger noted that Little Red has not been able to add to Virgin Atlantic’s bottom line. “It was always a huge challenge on behalf of the consumer, as the totally inadequate number of slots made available by the European Commission did not deliver close to BA’s network position, even when supplemented by our own slots to fly between Heathrow and Manchester,” he said. “The time lag between the takeover of bmi and our entering the market also meant Little Red initially faced an uphill battle to win recognition and convert customers to its services.”
But Virgin Atlantic said it remains committed to its flights out of Manchester and Scotland, with services from Manchester to Orlando, Barbados and Las Vegas will continuing, along with a new daily flight to Atlanta. And the carrier will add eight extra seasonal flights from Glasgow to Orlando next summer, along with will continue with eight extra return flights just announced for summer 2015, alongside a new five rotation operation between Glasgow and Las Vegas.