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EXCLUSIVE: Virgin Atlantic cancels Sao Paulo before flights even start (for the 2nd time)

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Earlier this year, Virgin Atlantic confirmed it would (re-)launch flights to Sao Paulo after earlier plans were nixed by covid. It was to be Virgin Atlantic’s first foray into South America.

The plan was to launch in May 2024 with a daily, all year, service.

Readers with long memories will remember that Virgin Atlantic originally announced this route in March 2019, to launch in March 2020. We already had our invitation to join Sir Richard Branson on the inaugural flight before covid scuppered the plans.

Virgin Atlantic cancels Sao Paulo before flights even start

Virgin Atlantic has now cancelled the route for a second time. This is just three months after tickets went on sale and six months before flights are due to start.

To be more accurate, it is ‘postponed’ – but postponed for a year.

This is what the airline says:

As we continue expanding our flying programme in 2024, we have had to make careful decisions about our network. As a result, we have decided to postpone the launch of our new service between London Heathrow and Sao Paulo until 2025. We are very sorry for any disappointment this may cause. 

We are committed to flying to Brazil and look forward to welcoming you onboard in the Summer of 2025. 

Virgin Atlantic cancels Sao Paulo before flights even start

With tickets only having been on sale for three months, and with flights not due to start until next May, it would be odd if the flights had been pulled due to poor sales. That said, this is a route where Virgin Atlantic will compete with both British Airways and LATAM.

It is also a long route, and one aircraft could do two runs to the US East Coast, Middle East or Israel in the time taken for one trip to Brazil. Perhaps Virgin Atlantic is facing issues with aircraft out for maintenance checks? It could also be down to something else entirely, such as regulatory issues.

Whatever the reason, I will have to pack away my samba gear for another 12 months.

There is no announcement on the Virgin Atlantic website, except for the fact that the Sao Paulo page here now says ‘Flights commence summer 2025’.

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SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive 30,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 30,000 Avios) with American Express Preferred Rewards Gold. You receive 25,000 points if you spend £3,000 in three months and a further 5,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.

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Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Virgin Points

(Want to earn more Virgin Points?  Click here to see our recent articles on Virgin Atlantic and Flying Club and click here for our home page with the latest news on earning and spending other airline and hotel points.)

Comments (110)

  • Novice says:

    Virgin’s biggest problem is that they aren’t thinking out of the box. They are treating UK to mean London.

    MAN has no actual British airline long haul carrier treating it as a hub. If Virgin concentrated on making MAN their hub and brought the neos to the north; I don’t see why they can’t be profitable.

    Last week, flying to/from Barbados was full and that was the awful seat. I personally wouldn’t fly them again unless on a neo. Food was crap, seat horrible. The only saving grace was the Crew and the fact that they seem to be offering drinks for non-alcoholics.

    • Rhys says:

      What would be more interesting for Virgin, I think, is buying a stack of A321LR/XLRs, putting some proper business class seats in and flying those from Manchester.

    • Bernard says:

      Awful because there wasn’t a ‘magic door’?
      Personally I’ve found many BA club suites have a build fault and I’m fed up with the gap (and a metal bar) in the middle when flat, and waking up with back ache. It’s, as ever with BA, a nice idea badly executed.
      It doesn’t have to be that way. The old upper class seat is super comfortable when flat, JetBlue mint is good as it United Polaris and the Qatar non Q suite 787-8 seat. The ‘old’ BA A380 business seat is better padded than the club suite.
      The point here is that not everyone is fetishised by doors and nonsense like that. Some of us prefer to sleep in well padded comfort without my butt sitting on metal seat bars!

      And on topic. Virgin are a private company that needs to make a profit. The armchair experts would do well to remember that it will fly where it makes the best return, not to plant flags in a map for travel geeks.

      • Novice says:

        No I don’t need doors @Bernard. Awful because you can’t recline the seat. It’s either flat or not and I sleep reclined I don’t like to feel like I’m in a coffin.

        • Novice says:

          Also I never mentioned a door or lack of so I don’t see why you would get super salty over my comment.

      • Rhys says:

        The old Upper Class seat isn’t super comfortable when flat if you’re taller than 180cm!

        • Dan says:

          I’m 185cm and never had a problem. Which part feels too small to you?

          • Rob says:

            It is weirdly narrow, I’m 6’2 as is Rhys. I flew it last month and it was my third time in a year. I have done everything I can to avoid it but sometimes it’s not possible (or they swap your aircraft).

  • Doug M says:

    I remember all the love for that Virgin seat pre BA Club Suite. How the tide has turned.

    • Rhys says:

      You’re comparing apples to oranges. Let’s be honest, both the old seats are now crap – and don’t forget, BA’s entire 787-8, 787-9 and A380 fleet still feature the yin-yang product. However, the new Upper Class suites and Club Suite are very good.

      • dougzz99 says:

        I’ve genuinely never had an issue with CW, but I say that as a gold with access to the nicer seats, as in window with direct access via bulkhead. I still really like CW rear facing as a bed, very comfortable. I positively dislike that old Virgin seat.

    • Rob says:

      There is now a path towards getting the entire Heathrow operation on Club Suite within a couple of years. It’s a real problem for Virgin – it must bite the bullet on the 787 seat. The deterioration of Upper Class food means that the reasons for flying a 787 (the 330s will be gone soon) are virtually nil once you leave the Heathrow Clubhouse.

      • Littefish says:

        Mostly agree, except Westbound I am quite happy with the VS lounge product plus 789 UC seat (and smaller cabin size) to LAX / SFO when I compare it to the BA/AA alternatives which are mostly 777s.

      • Bernard says:

        Somewhat overstated: reasons for flying virgin:
        Young fleet
        Crew service
        Flying club
        And a better premium economy than many others for those not in UC.

        Oh, and try the food on United (awful) or the painfully slow service with dreadful wine on BA and then come back and comment on UC F&B, perhaps?

        • Rob says:

          I did a BA and Virgin long haul flight back to back last month (less than 24 hours between them, both on the worst seats the airlines have). The BA food is now equivalent to Virgin due to Virgin dropping off and Do&Co improving the BA offering. I rarely drink in-flight these days beyond the welcome champange. I accept Virgin has a better range of niche drinks.

          A cheerful crew does not compensate for swapping my 330neo for a 330 with no notification or serving me crap food.

          When we went to NYC on Virgin in May, my wife (sat behind me) wasn’t served an appetiser and didn’t get offered afternoon tea until – in both cases – we had to intervene. Crew just treated her like she didn’t exist and missed her out. On BA two weeks ago. I was overrun with champagne (in F) from a CSD of about my age who enjoyed his blokey banter whilst my wife, three rows back as the kids were between us, wasn’t offered a single drink and was given the wrong appetiser. Fair to say she’s not a big fan of either airline at present.

          • dougzz99 says:

            There seems to be a good number of reports on FT of very differing levels of service being provided to different passengers in the same cabin. Inexperienced staff lacking the training to set side their own prejudices or first impressions? Who knows.

      • LittleNick says:

        Do Virgin have no place on refitting their 787s with the new seat?

  • pigeon says:

    I wonder what’s up at Virgin. Quite a few customer unfriendly decisions recently.

    On the one hand, I understand they can’t spend £100k per upper class seat for an upgrade if the plane is currently planned to go back to the lessor soon.

    On the other hand, lots of penny pinching (no amenity kit on day flights, food cuts, silly seat fees in “economy delight”) and I’ve had bouts of poor customer service.

    Maybe cash is a lot tighter than we think?

    • Novice says:

      Yes now that you mention it I was definitely not impressed by the amenity bag in UC. I mean the contents are fine though a little too tiny but the actual pack the kit comes in is crap. I understand they are using the environmentally friendly excuse for it but seriously I look forward to decent kit bags so I can keep them or give them to my relatives who don’t travel biz. I can’t say I kept these.

      • Rhys says:

        Those kits have been around since 2019! I wrote about them. I’ve actually raised this with them multiple times. Apparently, the kits were produced without ever consulting the in-house design team…

        • Novice says:

          Well the fact that you have raised the issue multiple times and they still haven’t done anything about it shows they are not bothered really.

          As I have mentioned before, it was my first time with Virgin (I know it’s pretty shocking 😂) I usually fly oneworld or * alliance…

  • Track says:

    A lot of useful points, especially discussion on Page 2.

    One thing Virgin should realise that the new route takes investment to develop, not “bookings are soft so we will drop it”.

    Of course, bookings will be soft, you need feeder traffic, returning customers, ones who prefer to use Virgin. With such instability about the route, maybe yes, maybe no, can forget about corporate travel.

    • Gentle Giant says:

      Very true post. I live in Brasil, nobody here knows anything about VA, no publicity, nothing. The route itself is poorly serviced by Latam and BA, but what surprised me was the reward seat availability – pick any day, empty plane.

  • Gentle Giant says:

    Myself and the Mrs are booked 1 way GRU-LHR using points in UC next May. We both received an email stating please claim a refund only. I contacted the webchat to be told only a refund was available. My understanding is VA have to book us on another carrier in biz. Any advice would be useful.
    And by the way, this is the second time this has happened, 2020 also. The VA web agent was quite appalling, I get the impression VA are trying to ride out the tickets booked with points anyone else having issues?

    • SadOldMan says:

      Was booked VS LHR-GRU and back in May 2024. Got the standard email a couple of days back- refund or other VS destination. Called this morning expecting a fight to be rebooked on another carrier.
      Very helpful agent Elise(?) booked on the Latam flights same days within about 20 minutes.

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