Topic of the Week: Will Virgin Atlantic Actually Fly Short Haul?

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic made a little noise earlier this week when it announced it would begin three daily flights between Manchester and London/Heathrow using leased A319s. Will this actually happen? My money says it’s just political positioning as part of the fight over bmi’s slots. But hey, I’m sure someone will disagree with me. . .

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15 comments on “Topic of the Week: Will Virgin Atlantic Actually Fly Short Haul?

  1. From what I read, they are leasing the slots from Cyprus Airlines. I suppose showing they are truly serious about short haul, putting some skin in the game early will help them. Politically, VS having the BMI slots is probably better than Aer Lingus, as EI feed would probably fill BA long-haul flights, kind of defeating the purpose of forcing BA to give up those slots.

  2. VS are the absolute masters of posturing, whining and moaning. I wouldn’t be surprised if they dug out the old Dirty Tricks references in this little BA spat. Move on Dickie the rest of the world has! They should focus their efforts on joining an alliance as they said they were looking to do earlier this year, again to much fanfare and zero delivery. VS was the first airline I flew over a big ocean with… loved them, they were great. That was 1994. Sadly they seem to have stuck in that era and failed to move on with the rest of the world.

    1. VS didn’t come out and say anything about an alliance earlier in the year, they did talk however of buying BMI which was an epic failure….the alliance thing is still a back burner, though they have promised a significant announcement in September.

  3. They’re not leasing the slots from Cyprus, they currently lease the slots (possibly to Cyprus) and are simply taking them back if/when they launch this.

  4. The suggestions in London today are that they are leasing one aircraft from Bulgaria Airlines (!) but with only three round trips a day this operation will lose money from day 1. It doesn’t make for easy connections to VS operations in London either as they all depart from Terminal 3 at Heathrow and that has no facilitities to deal with domestic flights so his new operation will have to use Terminal 1, a long walk or bus ride away.
    Many think this is another publicity stunt, although there has been considerable planning clearly and follows the loss, announced last week, of the franchise to operate trains to Manchester, and other points north, held for the last 15 years by Virgin Trains. As it happens I fly this route at least twice and often more times a month. I always used BMI until 6 months ago but the loss of cometition has seen fares rise considerably and if Virgin do anything to limit fare rises by BA I suppose I should be pleased but 3 flights a day, with no sensible FF programme and most of us tied up with BA’s Executive Club, probably means planes as empty as BMI’s often were, the worst was a Saturday A319 with 6 passengers and 5 crew

  5. They’ve announced a codeshare with Transaero to Moscow.

    Will post my thoughts on domestic later but Virgin Trains has lost the contract to operate London to Manchester trains, a service they transformed.

  6. Haha, the crazies here are claiming it’s a response to losing the franchise to operate West Coast Mainline, trains from Scotland and the North of England (including UK) through Midlands to London. A new operator takes over in December, and Dickie is already whipping up a maelstrom of support to have that decision overturned (popular consensus is they were doing a good job, and the new operator has a dodgy reputation on other parts of the network).

    The price for rail travel now (guaranteed inflation busting increases as part of their franchise agreements) means that at some point in little ol UK, air travel will probably become competitive with rail…

    1. “air travel will probably become competitive with rail”

      Ignoring the inconvenience of airport location and time spent checking in etc., this happened a while ago.

      Unless you had a student railcard.

      Or an old persons railcard.

      Or owned a rail franchise…..

  7. Given that they are wet leasing I think they are hedging their bets to see if the amount of connecting traffic will justify capital investment of their own. If they would only join an alliance? OneWorld??!! maybe they would do a lot better and see a much better result overall – look at the reslults of BA IB AA since their joint opeartion across the Atlantic.

  8. As others have noted, the Virgin Group are masters of PR and position. Will they really fly the domestic route? We’ll know when schedules and fares are posted and when the first one is in the air. And, in the words o f another, “…frankly madam, I don’t give a damn…”

  9. Virgin Atlantic sent me a statement after seeing my post:

    The slots to be used for LHR-MAN are our own existing slots which we?ve previously leased to another airline. This route is not part of the bmi remedy slots and we are using our own existing slot portfolio to operate between Heathrow and Manchester. Even if our remedy slot application is unsuccessful, we will operate this route. Our intent in the short haul market is strong and by beginning selling tickets on this route this week and we are demonstrating our focus on developing a new arm of Virgin Atlantic. The European Commission made a drastic mistake leaving Manchester out of the remedy slot package and we are putting vital competition back on this route and taking away BA?s dangerous monopoly.

  10. When bmi was independent, Virgin obtained a lot of its long haul feed at Heathrow from bmi. While the conditions of BA buying bmi provided that competitor airlines should have access to this domestic feed, Virgin will not be happy about their long haul feed coming from their big rival.

    Separately, you’re missing the bigger picture on this with regards to domestic flights. There are 7 slot pairs at Heathrow tied to the Edinburgh and Aberdeen routes, which BA must divest *without payment* if a competitor who does not currently lease slots to any other airline applies for the slots and fly these routes for 3 years. After 3 years, the slots are grandfathered, and Virgin can use them on other routes. Thus, if Virgin flies domestic to Aberdeen and Edinburgh for 3 years, they get 7 pairs of slots for absolutely zero charge.

    Thus, to be in with a chance of 7 free slots, it is essential that Virgin take back their 3 slot pairs from Cyprus Airlines, and find some way of keeping the slots warm. The shortest sensible route is concidentally Heathrow-Manchester.

    Now, when is the deadline for applying for those 7 free slots ? Oh, by coincidence it happened to be earlier this week.

    What does Virgin plan to operate from Heathrow-Manchester ? Oddly enough, it’s going to be a wet lease, meaning that for 3 years, Virgin has almost no capital risk / need to invest in new aircraft or pilot training.

    If Virgin get those 7 free slots at Heathrow, expect them to make a good try at domestic flying. If those 7 free slots go to someone else, expect Virgin to Manchester to stop before the end of 2013 if they lose too much cash. If Aberdeen+ Edinburgh lose too much cash, expect the routes to stop around March 2016.

    The 7 free slots at Heathrow, an airport which runs at 99% capacity every day, are the story behind this. The statement about wanting to provide competition is just a bit of public posturing.

  11. Although this decision is totally independent of their loss of the rail franchise, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if they had been able to run the domestic flights and the rail franchise alongside each other – I’m guessing some sort of ultra flexible ticket valid on either plane or train would have been marketed as a nice PR stunt.

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