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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)

  • Yasminah says:

    Do you know what has happened to the 787 LHR to Philadelphia route? I flew to Philly on the 787 in July/ August and it was a great trip. I am going back for work and it seems to be a 777 when checking availability. Yet the BA site has it listed as one of the 787 routes. Any information welcome, thanks….

  • Dominic says:

    I have to say I’m not surprised, at least in the context of their pointy-end offering and its appeal. My one VS Upper Class flight over the Atlantic had really bland food, and second-rate wine. I flew with BA in Club on Monday, the menu was genuinely interesting and the dishes I chose were tasty, and the wine far better. And the layout of the seats, the table, etc, all just made doing some work as I flew far, far easier than on VS.

  • DJ says:

    Flew back from Tokyo in VS Upper Class earlier this year as it was a last minute job and there was no BA/JAL flatbed availability for the return date and didn’t fancy ANA’s sloping business class bed. After an excellent LHR-NRT outbound in BA CW op-uped to F, several excellent JAL internal flights (in both premium economy ‘Class J’ and domestic F), not to mention the generally excellent service and quality you find everywhere in Japan, VS “Upper” Class was certainly a rude awakening! Was my first (and will be last) time in a VS “premium” cabin… horrible cramped lounge at NRT, horrible dirty seat with broken IFE screen, bad service, bad food (sushi worse than Pret a Manger’s from a flight ORIGINATING in Japan), noise disturbance from the (yes) horrible fellow passengers at the “onboard bar.” Oooh I feel almost bad typing this, but there were no business passengers on board it was all Kevins and Sharons who had won lotto scratchcards and were determined to get down as many free drinks as possible . (Christ knows what they were doing in Japan, incidentally. Would expect it on, eg. LGW-LAS) and because of the hideous seat placement had to spend the whole flight right opposite one!! In sum, I can’t imagine VS will be missed on this route!!

    PS. – also noted there were NO Japanese PAX in Upper, no doubt they know.

    • Paul says:

      kevin and Sharon and their scratch cards? you are talking (snobbish) nonsense.

    • Lady London says:

      So DJ, you quite liked it, then, really ?


    • Erico1875 says:

      Just wait to you get Eric and Wilma to Mumbai around Easter. 🙂

    • jamie says:

      What a wonderfully rude and snobbish comment! Nothing annoys a certain type of person more than when people they perceive to be less REFINED than themselves have the same level of, or perhaps more, disposable income! The joys of Britishness. I digress, though. I think the poster has a point in that Virgin does seem to go after a “cooler” more hedonistic crowd, visible through their marketing, their “red hot” cabin crew, on board bars, club house environments, and the like, and while I personally quite like that (why not have fun if you’re paying over the odds to get from A to B?), I can see that maybe it doesn’t appeal enough to those all important business travellers / corporate travel departments? If I was flying long haul in a premium cabin (not that I do with any frequency sadly) I think I’d want BA if it was for business, get some work done then sleep, and Virgin if I was off to Florida or the Caribbean – plenty of drinks and upbeat service from someone who knows what a smile is.. sorry BA, you DO have your dour moments 😉

    • Waribai says:

      ANA haven’t had a sloping bed since 2010 on the LHR-NRT route. In fact, they rolled out the staggered/fully flat bed setup before JAL

  • barnaby100 says:

    GRRR- just waiting for TOKYO UC reward seats to become available for the dates I need (due this week). Now what do I do with 300k miles?

    • Lady London says:

      Hmm for the 300k miles problem, would it work to book any ticket on that route quickly. I assume you have had no personally directed communication as at this point. Surely if you book now, you would eventually be presented with options… Options that if you choose carefully, you might be able to morph later, or as and when you receive any personal relevant communication, to dates you actually could use on services you might prefer anyway?

      • Erico1875 says:

        If you didnt know, and they accepted your booking for SPECIFIC dates,then they would be obliged to reroute you or offer refund. Apparently under EU regs, your choice which.

  • Mikeact says:

    I guess I could think of going Westbound to Aus ? Virgin ex LHR to LAX, (maybe take in a few days) to connect with VirginAustralia to Melbourne or Brisbane…..probably not the best way to use up my Virgin miles, but as a one off worth considering?

  • […] wrote last week about how Delta Air Lines was tightening its grip on Virgin Atlantic now that it owns 49% of the UK company.  Virgin will refocus on flying to destinations in North America.  Virgin and Delta have also […]

  • Alinlondon says:

    Things are not going well for Virgin Atlantic, today’s Sunday Times is reporting that Little Red is being scrapped soon.

    • Alan says:

      Oh damn, that would be really annoying – it’s great having them as a T2 option from Edinburgh for connecting from and to Star Alliance services 🙁 Was any possible date given?

    • I’ve just read a Telegraph article that states “Speculation is mounting that Virgin Atlantic may scrap UK domestic flights as it concentrates further on the lucrative transatlantic market” so it looks like there’s no news and this is just speculation.

      • Alan says:

        Yes they seem to be just referring back to the ST article which itself just quotes ‘industry sources’. Apparently VS staff themselves are unaware of it and the slots (apart from those in MAN) have quite strict restrictions in place that may limit their use for other things. Guess we’ll find out more in the coming days!

  • Sharon says:

    Ok, so on the basis I actually don’t fancy going to the US much and I was planning on using my bucket load of miles for a holiday to Vancouver in 2016, who else can I use my Virgin miles with and how do I go about booking those instead?