Virgin Atlantic announced yesterday that they have been awarded all 12 of the daily slot pairs at Heathrow that BA had to give up as part of the acquisition of bmi.
Here is the email that Virgin Atlantic circulated on Sunday evening:
We are excited to announce that we have been offered all of the Heathrow short haul remedy slots available following the International Airline Group’s acquisition of bmi.
We have fought hard for the right to fly short haul and take a strong challenge to British Airways within these shores. For 28 years both airlines have battled for customers all over the world and it has meant that British consumers have ultimately had some of the world’s best flying and lowest fares.
This is the beginning of an exciting new era in Virgin Atlantic history and we now feel a responsibility to everyone that has supported us in this challenge. You can look forward to a great short haul service with us but most importantly reap the benefits from the re-injection of vital competition we can provide on these routes.”
Over the next two weeks, we will work to finalise our plans for utilisation of the available remedy slots and to confirm a flying timetable. We will primarily focus on flying between Scotland and Heathrow, running multiple daily flights from Edinburgh and Aberdeen to London Heathrow.
Flights will commence around 31 March 2013 and complement the new Heathrow to Manchester route that we are also introducing next year. We will be working with a wet lease partner to provide narrow body Airbus A320 aircraft to operate these short haul flights.
We will be revealing specific details of our short haul product and famed onboard customer experience in the coming months, so watch this space!
We look forward to seeing you onboard soon.
BA has had to surrender flight slots to Nice, Cairo and Riyadh amongst the 12 slot pairs. It is not clear at present if Virgin intends to take up these rights or will use the slots for additional flights to the destinations already announced. Nice is the most likely target due to transfer traffic from the south of France and the ease of serving it with an A320.
They have also acquired bmi’s slot pairs to fly to Moscow. However, ironically, Virgin cannot now use these. Only two British airlines are allowed by the Russia authorities to fly to Moscow, and it is the Civil Aviation Authority who decides who gets the slots. A few weeks ago it gave easyJet the rights to join BA on the route, flying from Gatwick. Virgin cannot therefore fly to Moscow, despite having landing slots at both airports, unless the Russian Government changes its policy.
What is interesting is the mention of wet leasing the planes. This means that Virgin will be chartering fully crewed planes to run these flights. The pilots and cabin crew will not work for Virgin Atlantic. How this impacts the service remains to be seen.
Virgin will also now be spread over two terminals at Heathrow, so connecting to a Virgin long-haul flight will not be seamless. It remains to be seen what lounge facilities will be available, especially as services will start in just four months. Anyone expecting a Clubhouse experience in Terminal 1 will be sorely disappointed, I assume.
Once the UK domestic flights start, I expect that Virgin Atlantic Flying Club will feature more heavily on Head for Points. More people will be flying the airline, and in the absence of Virgin joining Star Alliance or Skyteam just yet, most will credit their flights to Flying Club.
The scheme has its good parts and bad parts. The good parts are the ability to earn miles from American Express Membership Rewards, BAA WorldPoints, the Virgin credit cards, Virgin Trains and Tesco, as well as flying and via hotel partners. It is therefore relatively easy to build up your miles.
The bad parts are primarily the shocking cancellation penalties imposed on redemption flights if you change your plans, plus of course the limited route network for redemptions.
In the run up to the start of the UK services in March, expect to see a few explanatory posts on Flying Club.
(Want to earn more Virgin Flying Club miles? Click here to see recent articles on Virgin Atlantic, Little Red and Flying Club, and click here for the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)