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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.

  • ChrisBCN says:

    Would it make sense for Delta to slot-sit on the 80% of Gatwick slots, in the absence of anyone else wanting them? This is how they subsidise Virgin without it looking like they are. They have cash and spare small efficient long distance planes from many of their US bases that could do this.

    • Oh! Matron! says:

      This wouldn’t sit well with tChump if DL was seen to be subsidising other foreign airlines

  • TripRep says:

    Fond memories of champagne breakfast served by excellent staff in the LGW CH. Really hope that these folks manage to weather the storm.

  • Dwb1873 says:

    This makes me a little sad for several reasons. I took part in the amazing Star Wars ultimate experience Virgin did with Disney to Orlando in February just as the first inklings surfaced – the branded 747 was a lovely touch especially combined with the extras they did onboard. We splashed out for Upper and on that trip, it was well worth it. The lounge was brilliant too.

    So all of that goes. We joked it was a once in a lifetime experience, but didn’t realise it would be for the reasons it’s turning out to be.

    Orlando is going to be reeling full stop. Nothing there from airport to theme parks is set up for social distancing. MCO is a scrum and Universal/Disney relies on packing people in on rides, queues, the works.

    So many currently broken business models.

    • Peter K says:

      The broken business models comment is very accurate. Many places are set up to cram as many in a small a space as possible to maximise profits. It goes from food outlets (McDonalds, Greggs, Pret, pubs, restaurants etc), to places with waiting rooms (GPs, dentists, opticians etc), to cinemas, holiday attractions (eg Alton Towers, National Trust properties), hot desking offices and so on.

      • memesweeper says:

        That assumes we stick with distancing… there’s no evidence it works at all at 2m.

        Wiping surfaces with alcohol between customer visits works … keeping people entirely apart (limiting their social/work circle) also works. Neither of these approaches scale up for all manner of businesses.

      • Ken says:

        Different country entirely at least but 2/3 of McDonalds sales in USA are drive through.
        Most times I go to the cinema (Odeon or Picturehouse) it’s 1/3 full at the most.

        Pubs and restaurants- no idea what they will do. Nothing worse than eating or drinking in an empty place.

        • The Savage Squirrel says:

          A lot locally have adapted with remarkable speed to a takeout/delivery model; even some high end (think Michelin Star level) places. How sustainable in the long term that is I don’t kknow, but it’s certainly an interesting experience.

  • Anna says:

    Is BA hoping that some people will buy a stack of Avios under the new promotion then blow them on RFS seats in Y?!

    • mr_jetlag says:

      They’re hoping we forget the refund / voucher fiasco.

    • Genghis says:

      RFS seats in Y are often great value. I don’t get your point.

      • Optimus Prime says:

        She may be talking about those RFS being trialled for JFK.

        • avstar says:

          cant be long before the super cheap intra-US avios redemptions become more expensive…..

        • Vicky says:

          RFS rolled out to sub 10hrs flights with few exceptions. All ME cities like DXB, AUH, MCT, BAH are already loaded and available in plenty for Xmas to NY and beyond.

        • PJJ says:

          And Dubai

  • Mr(s) Entitled says:

    Does this make Virgin less appealing to the Government? It’s brand already outweighed it’s value to GDP and now they are down to 7,000 employees (all UK?). Not very big in the grand scheme of things.

    All of which said, my sympathies to those involved. It is a terrible situation.

    • Cal says:

      I think one of the issues UK Gov have had with Virgin’s initial application for funds was that they were too optimistic, this is probably a step towards to the realistic approach of stripping back to the basics. Getting out of Gatwick to me signals that they are expecting only business and premium leisure travellers to be flying.

      • Callum says:

        I think that’s a vast oversimplification that so many people make on here. There are significant numbers of non premium leisure travellers flying from Heathrow as well – people often assume they’re concentrated in Gatwick but that’s not true, and I would go as far as to say that the Heathrow timetable couldn’t possibly be maintained without them.

        My assumption on motive would be that Heathrow has pretty much the same catchment area as Gatwick does, and they want to consolidate in one place for the time being.

        • Rob says:

          You should remember that the ability to get to Heathrow cheaply on tube (vs expensively to Gatwick, Luton or Stansted on the train) means that the overall cost of BA out of Heathrow vs easyJet out of Luton, if you live in central London, is very similar. Heathrow is also a far more pleasant experience than Luton or Stansted. Both of these will drive leisure traffic.

          • Lady London says:

            I think you can honestly also put Gatwick, so far as the train is concerned, ok to reach timewise from Central London particularly East-ish Centralish areas. Train fares to LGW are still too high if you don’t have a discount card though.

            But train to Luton from London is a complete ripoff even with a traincard discount. Especially since Luton airport has only recently started work on a final train link that actually goes into the Luton airport.

            I think there are a lot of people coming from North of London who would find the train link to Gatwick easy to connect to and use. Some trains also stop at Luton Town on the way to London. This can be ok to connect to Luton Parkway then bus to airport if you really must use Luton.

            For those coming from North/South/East of London by public transport Gatwick is much more useful than Heathrow. All subject to the trains and station facilities like lifts and escalators actually working of course.

    • Rob says:

      Arguably the other way, that Virgin is getting ‘real’ about its future size and shape and better positioned to survive post any bailout.

      If VS was saying ‘lend us £500m so we can start flying 10 flights a day again to New York from 1st June’ then you would not exactly consider it a good use of taxpayers money.

      • Mr(s) Entitled says:

        It’s a double edged sword. The more real they get about their prospects the less meaningful they become. I still wonder it the Govt fundamentally has the appetite for this deal. Time will tell.

        • marcw says:

          Fully agree. In the last 8 years, Virgin has become an unessential competitor. I strongly believe Norwegian would do a way better job, especially on the price segment. It wasn´t Virgin that was driving down prices… it was Norwegian. Let´s hope they survive and sooner rather than later we see them again flying from LGW.

          • Mikeact says:

            Pretty obvious comments to me. But it’s been difficult for Virgin to raise prices when THEY have competition to deal with as well. And they are hardly competitive when looking at their routes generally… squeezed all round Like their Australian cohurts, they need to get back to basics.

  • Baji Nahid says:

    Did anyone here by any chance win the golden tickets virgin were giving out on black friday last year? Some really cheap destinations but I wonder if and hope that people get to fly them!

    • Hostime says:

      Yes, I managed to get one to Miami for £1 (return), and flew there and back in February 🙂

      • Baji Nahid says:

        oh sweet i went to las vegas in february! Loved it!

      • Baji Nahid says:

        can i ask you did you use your points or was it the fare was £1 + taxes?

        • jc says:

          the latter

          • Chris says:

            I won one for Shanghai in late February…. (that didn’t happen obviously) but they did change it from me at no cost to a return to Hong Kong instead as that was still flying then (and from there did a quick week long hop over to Thailand).

            And then today I was meant to be flying to Sydney on the £200 Qantas 100 year promotion.

            Last year seemed to have a lot of luck in getting these flights, this year less so luck-wise for actually going on the flights….

    • Baji Nahid says:

      Awww i hope you all get to to go your flights soon! I got a BA flight to RIO and also Miami and New York from MAnchester on virgin but lets see!

  • Vicky says:

    Delta showing up LGW to BOS & NYC routes, these are not VS codeshare ones but on DL metal. Possibly LGW slots outsourced to Delta aa part of their debt recovery!!

    • Nick says:

      These were planned already. And can’t be removed that quickly from schedules – I imagine Delta won’t have had time to decide yet what to do going forward.

  • Nick says:

    Unlike BA, VS crew worked from both Gatwick and Heathrow (they have free shuttle buses between them if crew live nearer one than the other), so logically any redundancies will be ‘across the board’. The only staff ‘at Gatwick’ are in the terminals and lounges. Your last paragraph is therefore as redundant as the staff.

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