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Virgin Atlantic guts its network – Tokyo, Cape Town, Mumbai, Vancouver scrapped

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If anyone was still wondering why US airline Delta bought 49% of Virgin Atlantic last year, the answer is now clear.  It intends to turn it into a UK – US feeder service for its own routes.

That is the only interpretation you can have following the major announcement Virgin made yesterday.  It is scrapping its routes to Tokyo, Cape Town, Mumbai and Vancouver.  Sydney was dropped earlier in the year.

In return, it is increasing frequencies to various US destinations.

The full details can be found here on the Virgin Atlantic website.  In summary:

Virgin Atlantic

New flights:

5th daily flight from Heathrow to New York JFK

2nd daily flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles

2nd daily flight in Summer from Heathrow to Atlanta

5 additional flights per week in Summer from Heathrow to San Francisco

2nd daily flight in Winter from Heathrow to Miami

The following changes are being made with Delta:

Virgin to take over Heathrow to Detroit from Delta, this becomes a year-round rather than Summer-only service

Virgin to take over Manchester to Atlanta, in return for Delta taking one Heathrow to Newark service

Delta to launch Manchester to New York

The following routes are being scrapped:

Tokyo, as of 31st January

Mumbai, as of 31st January

Vancouver, as of 11th October (was Summer only)

Cape Town, as of 26th April (was Winter only)

If you booked on any of the cancelled services, Virgin is being very non-committal about what will happen to you:

What are the options available for passengers?

We will discuss options with passengers and will consider offering a full refund or rebooking them onto another carrier.

The telephone number to call if you are impacted is here at the bottom of the page.

None of this should come as much of a surprise, of course.  Virgin Atlantic has been losing money for a long time.  The on-board Upper Class product and service – which admittedly I have not flown in a long time – is generally unpopular with the business community.

Whilst Virgin Holidays does an excellent job of filling the economy seats, the real money is in the pointy end.

The airline is also surprisingly low-key in its promotional activity.  It is rare (at least, rare compared to BA and the Middle Eastern carriers) that I write about a Virgin fare sale in premium classes.

UK-US air routes are amongst the most profitable in the world, commanding high premium fares for relatively short distances.  You can’t blame Delta for insisting that Virgin focusses its activities there.

It also punches another hole in the Heathrow expansion argument.  We are constantly told that there is huge untapped demand for more flights to India, for example, yet both UK airlines have cut back massively in recent years.  If Virgin cannot make Tokyo work, you have to question how they would make money flying to second-tier cities in China.

The question now is how much more of the Virgin route network is safe.  The Dubai route must be getting crowded out by multiple BA, Emirates and Etihad services.  The Hong Kong route has lost its onwards connecting passengers who continued to Sydney.  Is there really a lot of premium traffic to Delhi?  The others look a little more secure but lets see.

(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.)

Comments (74)

  • Tim Tinsley says:

    Just a word of caution to those that have flights booked using virgin miles. When virgin pulled the Sydney service I had upper class seats booked using miles. Initially they only offered me economy seats on cathay. In the flying club t and c , it states that for cancelled flights they will only rebook in economy. It’s good to see that it appears that they are not using that clause this time either, but this is a nasty sting in the tail of the t and c’s. I don’t know if other ff schemes have the same clause.

    In the end I got business seats booked in revenue so ended up earning avios pts!

  • Charlie says:

    I flew Virgin upper class to Tokyo using miles, it was a fantastic experience, this was 2 years ago and the flight was almost empty. At the time I knew things were bad because some Virgin flights to
    Tokyo were scrapped on the same week, I think it was a reduction in frequency. I can’t see this happening with HKG though as i often fly this route and it is very popular.

  • Kwab Asare says:

    Virgin also have a sizeable Japanese speaking crew employed on the LHR-NRT route. All very friendly but not all speak great English so I guess we could see some ‘restructuring’ going on….

  • Victor says:

    I have a flight booked in March to Tokyo, as the booking was through LastMinute.com on calling Virgin they said call LM, on calling LM there was nothing that they could do as apparently the flight is operating!? Yesterday you could still book the flights on the Virgin website after the announcement. How long does it take the news to filter through to agents? I am keen to get a re-booking on ANA rather than a refund as fares have gone up between booking and now.

  • James says:

    The last thing anyone needed was another daily LHR-NYC rotation, how many is that now? :/

    • olireaction says:

      Evidently there is demand for another NYC rotation or they wouldn’t be adding it! Its important to offer more daily rotations to secure corporate contracts too, which are very valuable to the airline – more so than extra holiday makers…
      I’m devastated at the loss of NRT, but if it makes VS profitable again so be it. If they can’t survive then my VS miles really will be worth nothing!

  • Lady London says:

    I’m wondering has anyone noticed any chance in the Virgin T3 lounge due to any influx of
    Delta passengers?

  • ABC says:

    Shouldn’t we expect VS to introduce short haul traffic to major cities in central Europe? LHR is not a hub for Sky team. It’s currently more flexible to enter the EU via CDG and AMS.

  • Keith Priestnal says:

    I am gutted at the loss of the direct Cape Town flight. It mat have something to do with the withdrawal of the A340 but a major holiday destination lost unless travel via other hubs.
    This leaves the only direct flight from the UK is BA. Very disappointed.