Virgin Atlantic is keen to obtain more take-off and landing slots at London Heathrow (LHR). Additional slots will soon be needed to accommodate the airline’s growing fleet, which is expected to increase from the 37 aircraft it has today to 46 in 2025.
The carrier already has the second-highest number of slots at the airport, behind British Airways, and in a recent interview, Virgin Atlantic’s CEO, Shai Weiss, expressed his interest in further growing the airline’s presence at London Heathrow.
With London Heathrow being one of the busiest airports in the world, take-off and landing slots come at a significant premium, particularly at peak times such as early morning arrivals. However, earlier this summer, Virgin Atlantic managed to expand its slot portfolio when Aeroflot’s 64 weekly slots were divided between the airline and five others – Vistara, JetBlue, Avianca, China Airlines, and WestJet.
Virgin Atlantic shut down its London Gatwick (LGW) operation at the start of the pandemic, a move which has since saved over £300 million annually. One possible way of freeing up some slots at London Heathrow would be to re-open the airline’s hub at London Gatwick and move some of its more leisure-oriented Florida and Caribbean routes there. However, the carrier did recently confirm that there are no plans to return to London Gatwick before 2024.
Where might Virgin Atlantic fly to?
If it were to obtain more take-off and landing slots, which routes might Virgin Atlantic look to launch?
The airline’s primary focus remains North America, which makes up over 70% of its network. However, while Virgin Atlantic may have recently dropped its Hong Kong (HKG) route, there is still a growing interest in increasing the airline’s presence in Asia. In India, for example, the carrier already flies to Delhi (DEL) and Mumbai (BOM), and recently signed a codeshare agreement with IndiGo, India’s largest airline.
Virgin Atlantic also recently announced that it would be joining the SkyTeam alliance in early 2023, and since then, rumors have appeared of a potential new service to Seoul (ICN). It remains to be seen if this will come to fruition, but it would make sense, given that it could then feed passengers into fellow SkyTeam member Korean Air’s hub, and direct competition has decreased after British Airways decided not to resume the route following the pandemic.
As countries across Asia begin to relax travel restrictions following the pandemic, we may well see more potential routes on the horizon for Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Atlantic and the Airbus A330neo
Virgin Atlantic recently operated its Airbus A330neo aircraft for the first time on its newest route to Tampa (TPA).
The airline has a further 15 Airbus A330neos on order, each seating a total of 262 passengers in a three-class configuration – 32 in Upper Class, 46 in Premium Economy, and 184 in Economy. They will be replacing the older Airbus A330-300s, of which the airline currently has 10.
Photo: Virgin Atlantic
From its hub at London Heathrow, Virgin Atlantic currently operates to 27 destinations. By May 2023, this will have increased to 28, with the resumption of seasonal flights to Cape Town (CPT) and year-round services to Shanghai (PVG). The airline plans to end its Tobago (TAB) services in January.
What do you think of Virgin Atlantic’s ambition to obtain more slots at London Heathrow? Which new routes would you like to see from the airline? Share your thoughts and predictions by commenting below.
- IATA/ICAO Code:
- Airline Type:
- Full Service Carrier
- London Heathrow Airport
- Year Founded:
- Shai Weiss
- United Kingdom