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Virgin Atlantic making 3,150 redundant, leaving Gatwick and scrapping its Boeing 747 fleet

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Virgin Atlantic has announced it will be permanently retiring its Boeing 747-400 fleet with immediate effect, leaving London Gatwick and making 3,150 staff redundant.

This is part of the strategy to reduce costs as the airline comes to terms with the impact of coronavirus.  This is not an alternative to a bailout loan and more likely an attempt to show that it is ‘getting its house in order’ – Virgin Atlantic is still in talks with “several stakeholders” including the government.

The airline expects to reinstate 60% of its pre-pandemic capacity by the end of the year although this is obviously just a finger-in-the-air number at the moment.

Virgin Atlantic 747

Virgin Atlantic is culling its Boeing 747 fleet

Until today, Virgin Atlantic had seven Boeing 747 aircraft in its fleet with an average age of 20 years.  Ditching these aircraft now is the obvious thing to do, not least because they are getting long in the tooth.  The Boeing 747 fleet was due to be replaced in any event by the new A350 fleet of which four have already arrived since last September.  The remaining eight, half of which were designed for leisure routes with a different configuration, are yet to be delivered – Virgin did not say today whether it still expects this to happen.

Dropping the Boeing 747 fleet also makes sense from a fuel efficiency perspective. The trend in recent years has been to move away from thirsty four-engined aircraft towards twin-engine aircraft. With additional weight savings from its carbon fibre fuselage and improved aerodynamics, the A350 is around 50% more efficient than a Boeing 747.

In the medium term, Virgin Atlantic will be retiring four A330-200s by 2022 as previously planned. These are the ex-Air Berlin planes that were introduced in 2018 to help Virgin cope with its troublesome Boeing 787 fleet and were only on a short lease.  These are likely to be replaced by A330neos which are due to arrive in 2021, although given the circumstances this is likely to slip.

Virgin Atlantic withdrawing from Gatwick

In addition to rationalising its fleet plans, Virgin Atlantic is also withdrawing from London Gatwick.  It will be moving all London flights to Heathrow whilst retaining its slot portfolio at Gatwick so that it has the opportunity to return in the future.

As well as being a cost saving measure, reducing duplicated overheads, it will also ensure that Virgin Atlantic protects all of its Heathrow slots for the future.

Quite how it will manage to retain the Gatwick slots is a different question. There is a ‘use it or lose it’ rule in place for take-off and landing slots that require at least 80% use. Whilst this has been suspended until October, it is not clear how Virgin Atlantic will fulfil the requirements beyond then.

In normal circumstances it may have been able to lease them out to another airline, but with most companies cutting capacity there is likely to be a glut of slots available.  It is possible that it may end up subsidising a smaller operator to pick up the slack.

The Gatwick routes were primarily leisure focused, such as Antigua, Barbados, Havana, Montego Bay, Orlando and St Lucia.  There were also plans to launch a Gatwick to New York service this Summer, with Delta also due to launch Gatwick to Boston.

The Manchester operation will remain.  Glasgow was not mentioned.

3,000 redundancies announced

As you would expect, closing the Gatwick base will affect a lot of Virgin staff. The airline has is seeking 3,000 redundancies, representing a third of its workforce.  These will be made across the board, although many are likely to occur at Gatwick.

Finally – and slightly oddly, given that it is hardly a top priority – Virgin Holidays will be rebranded as Virgin Atlantic Holidays.  15% of the current shops will be closed.


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Comments (100)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Cal says:

    Very sad news, I know a few people at Crawley so I am hoping they are lucky (although some have already left).

    I thought VS was going to have 12 A350s? They have had 4 delivered so far, 4 more that they had purchased and 4 more leased?

  • ian_h says:

    “It will be moving all flights to London Heathrow whilst retaining its slot portfolio at Gatwick…….”

    Sky are reporting: “…re-focusing of operations on Heathrow and Manchester airports,,,”

    So not ALL flights will be at LHR they will still be at MAN too.

    • Peter Williamson says:

      I guess it depends on the return of leisure travel – Manchester is an entirely leisure operation

      • Ian says:

        No it doesn’t. The Virgin press release is clear that future operations will be at Heathrow AND Manchester. The fact that this wasn’t mentioned in the HfP article is testament to the site’s London bias.

        • Save East Coast Rewards says:

          To be fair I took it to mean all London flights were going to be from Heathrow.

        • Mark says:

          In any case, so long as people are convinced that they can travel safely I would expect leisure traffic to bounce back rather more quickly than business travel.

          Even if and when a vaccine becomes available, if businesses are cash strapped and have worked out that they can operate with much reduced travel it’s an easy saving, especially given the increasing pressures to consider the environmental impact.

        • Rob says:

          Nah, it’s just Rhys writing it very quickly, in the same way we undercounted the number of A350s in the order.

          • Chrish says:

            Rob, That’s good you have a big “Rob” fan base on here, long may it continue
            As long as you can do no wrong (or blame Rys) lol
            your business will flourish & (so it should, thought I better add that to avoid your fan base lol lol
            Wow another reason to keep reading comments

        • Mikeact says:

          Bias ? This article? Rubbish …. read it again.

          • Hamed says:

            Completely agree. Rob is about as honest as they come.

        • Lady London says:

          Headforpoints may know something we don’t.

          • Rob says:

            Everyone is hunkering down. We’ve not had anything outside of official press releases from anyone for 6 weeks.

  • Graeme says:

    Incredibly tough times now and ahead. Thank you Virgin and your 747s for many wonderful trips out West, sat upstairs PE in the bubble. The closest thing us normal folk ever got to a private jet. I’ll never forget the excitement and wonderment of your passengers seeing you parked at the gate.

    • Chris says:

      Not quite. The closest to a private jet is BA1!

    • Oh! Matron! says:

      Getting to fly in the bubble but not having to pay a fortune for it (it was half Y, after all) was amazing 🙂

      Will miss the 747, and the acres of space you had at your side by the window

  • Baji Nahid says:

    What would be the configurations of the leisure a350? I know the B747 had like 400 odd passengers.
    I also wonder what this means for belfast and glasgow in regards to their flight to orlando. Orlando airport will also be reeling at the loss of this.

    Also as a final OT point, Scotland needs a direct link to Orlando and hopefully an airline pulls one out the bag from Edinburgh!!

    • Graeme says:

      At some point each summer VS was up to 3 weekly 747 GLA-MCO, with several TX services as well and Thomson from both GLA and EDI to SFB. Anytime I was on the Jumbo it was packed to the roof. So there is certainly demand, but it might be a long time returning. I agree, MCO is going to be reeling from this. Wasn’t there regularly 6 747s at their gates??

      • Baji Nahid says:

        Yep 6 to 7 flights at orlando! Definitely is demand and there could potentially be a yearly service? I was counting on Delta or American to maybe start a service or even Virgin Atlantic from Edinburgh and can Glasgow but lets see what will happen!

    • Rob says:

      It’s a very small Upper Cabin (we’ve had a sneak peak at the social space which is obviously different to what is on the others with a far bigger cabin). Not sure how the Premium v Economy area splits.

      • Baji Nahid says:

        Im presuming there will be more emphasis in premium economy and a high number of economy seats!

      • Spaghetti Town says:

        Not surprising. The 747 only has something like 16 seats in upper class leisure config?

        • TripRep says:

          14 IIRC

          Was due to fly on one in November from MAN –> MCO

          If VS don’t cancel, I might still be tempted to.

      • Lady London says:

        Wonder if Qatar could use those jets VS ordered? The mood lighting colors seem similar. DOH to MCO anyone? Orlando is probably cooler than DOH in July

        • Rhys says:

          These days mood lighting can be changed to any of several million different shades – I hardly doubt that will be the sticking point 😉

        • Rob says:

          I think Emirates should take a stake in VS. Balances out the Qatar stake in IAG, the sum required is peanuts (cost of 1 A380), some synergies via LHR Terminal 3 and gives Virgin passengers access to flights eastwards.

          • Nick says:

            And of course will force Delta to stop ‘ranting’ about Middle East airlines. That alone would be worth the cost for Emirates, even if they never make any financial return on the investment.

    • Andrew says:

      It does indeed.

      As an essential lifeline service, I’m thinking David MacBrayne Limited wet leasing a few Ex-Virgin 747s and running from PIK? Just need to repaint the tail into the Caledonian MacBrayne logo. I think it would work as a look!

      Then we’d need the Scottish Flag carrying ladies in their yellow swimsuits

      Nicola Sturgeon?
      Jeane Freeman?

      • CV3V says:

        Meal service will be a scotch pie made from ‘meat’, tunnocks caramel log and a 250ml bottle of iron bru. I’ve made myself hungry!

  • babyg says:

    Sad times indeed. Virgin bought some glamour back to flying and made the flight part of the holiday. Hopefully this is as bad as it gets for virgin and its staff. Difficult times ahead for all those being made redundant, i hope virgin do a better job than BA in regards to packages etc beyond the statutory requirements, that said virgin are in a much worse ££££ than BA so that maybe tricky.

  • Genghis says:

    Question is though, what should I do with my Virgin miles? Rob, are you transferring out? Lol 🙂

    • Harry T says:

      Can someone please make a decision for me, even though I’ve not researched my options? 🙂

      • Spaghetti Town says:

        I almost jumped ship, but I think Virgin will come through this.

      • Save East Coast Rewards says:

        It makes me laugh when people keep asking that question. After all Rob is not a typical points collector. He has more points than he needs in any of the VS transfer out options so it makes sense he keeps the points with Virgin so if they survive he can redeem reward flights with them. Everybody’s scenario is different. For me Hilton points were more valuable.

        • Spaghetti Town says:

          I agree. Won’t be the end of the world for Rob is VS does go under as he’s probably hoarding Amex MR from Referrals and Lufthansa Miles from paying his tax bill.

          Saying that, Lufthansa aren’t exactly in a fantastic position.

        • Harry T says:

          Exactly. Rob has millions of points across multiple schemes due to his own wily collecting and his wife’s extensive business travel. His risk is appropriately diversified. He has so many Hilton points that he can’t find a use for any more.

        • J says:

          The responsibility tied to having the sort of influence he does goes far beyond his personal miles stake anyway. And, presumably a few million miles isn’t worth losing any goodwill from the Virgin team that he has built up over the years.

          • ADS says:

            yes, Rob did comment a while ago that the advertising income he gets from BA and VS dwarf the value of his frequent flyer points !

          • Rob says:

            Most trade people understand how it works: ‘it is valuable getting coverage in HFP because the readers trust what is written, but we accept that readers only trust what is written because companies receive both positive and negative coverage’.

            If a company is smart, however, it can shape that coverage through the access and information we are given. When Virgin brought in the ex-airberlin planes for example, with their old style seating, they were very good at explaining why this happened (duff 787s), gave us a flight to the US so we could try it out and invited us to see all the designs for the replacement seating. The only thing we never did was fly the new seat due to scheduling issues. Do all this and the coverage naturally becomes more nuanced than ‘this looks rubbish’.

            Qatar gave us a review flight on the old 777 with 2x2x2 seating once, specifically because it WAS their worst product. They knew the food, drink, lounge, amenities etc were still excellent and wanted a review to show this. Not many companies are so enlightend.

    • Chrish says:

      Genghis Cant understand “WHY you want to know what Rob’s doing
      “is he God” or maybe the new Messiah lol new world n all that lol

      • Genghis says:

        I was trying to be funny. Clearly wasn’t for you.

        • Bill says:

          I saw the funny side. 🙂 KLM? I’m going to do a couple of speculative business class bookings from Edinburgh to Nuremberg to see the in-laws. Need to put those 15-20k points accured from Morrisons to good use 🙂 Which are still coming in. 🙂

    • Lady London says:

      Had to change my T-shirt as coffee went all over it!

      When you have time, @Genghis, can you do the “will I lose my Amex voucherif I cancel my card?”. Please make it afternoon before teatime as I’m running out of T-shirts!

  • Nick_C says:

    “Several Stakeholders”? I though there were only two, and Delta are not helping.

  • AJA says:

    Proportionally Virgin Atlantic is making 1/3 of its staff redundant! The Guardian also reported that BALPA says 426 pilots are at risk, included in the 3,150 redundancies. I feel sorry for all airline staff at this point.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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