Virgin still #3 at Heathrow; still no sign of Canadian flights

Image: No sign of Canadian flights

In 2007 Virgin Atlantic (VS) carried more passengers than ever before, but its previous best year was as long ago as 2000. Not surprisingly, as a long-haul airline focussing on the UK to US market the events of ‘9/11′ hit it hard. In 2002 passenger numbers were down almost 25% from the 2000 peak though since then traffic has gradually recovered and last year demand increased by 15.4% as the airline transported 5.64 million passengers and reported an average load factor of 76.5%. Even better the airline reported a small profit of almost £47 million ($90m) on turnover of over two billion pounds representing a margin of just over 2%.

Chart: Virgin Atlantic traffic 1997-20
Source: UK CAA

Annual average load factors in this period have fluctuated between just 72.8% in 2006 and 81.1% in 2002.

Chart: Virgin Atlantic seasonality
Source: UK CAA

After double-digit growth in 2007 this year looks to be more modest. February saw a 4% rise despite the extra day while March benefited from an early Easter. With no new routes on the horizon and high fuel prices this looks a year of consolidation for Virgin Atlantic.

LHR: Competing with at least two carriers on every route

Virgin Atlantic operates from London Heathrow, London Gatwick and Manchester on a total of 30 routes.

Airport Weekly frequency Weekly capacity Routes Airports served non-stop
(weekly frequency)
London Heathrow 163 48,956 18 BOM, BOS, DEL, DXB, EWR, HKG, IAD, JFK, JNB, LAX, LOS, MIA, MRU, NBO, NRT, ORD, PVG, SFO
London Gatwick 41 15,826 9 ANU (3), BGI (7), HAV (2), KIN (2), LAS (7), MBJ (2), MCO (14), TAB (1), UVF (3)
Manchester 9 3,474 3 BGI (1), MCO (7), UVF (1)
Source: OAG Max Online for June 2008
For Heathrow weekly frequencies see table below.

Virgin Atlantic also served Syndey via Hong Kong on a daily basis. Over three-quarters of all Virgin’s flights are from Heathrow where it has a 5.2% share of scheduled seat capacity this summer ranking it third behind British Airways (38.0%) and bmi British Midland (7.7%). Some 60% of its Heathrow flights (98 weekly) serve the US market making it by far the largest country market followed by India with just 14 weekly flights (Delhi and Mumbai are both served daily).

LHR Routes
(UK Long-haul ranking)
VS frequency Competition
Boston (#14) 7 American (14), BA (21)
Chicago (#4) 7 Air India (3), American (34), BA (21), United (21)
Delhi 7 Air India (7), BA (14), Jet Airways (7)
Dubai (#2) 7 BA (14), Emirates (35), Royal Brunei (7)
Hong Kong (#5) 7 Air New Zealand (7), BA (21), Cathay Pacific (28), Qantas (7)
Johannesburg (#9) 7 BA (14), SAA (13)
Lagos 7 Bellview (6), BA (7), Virgin Nigeria (1)
Los Angeles (#7) 14 Air France (7), Air New Zealand (7), American (14), BA (21), United (7)
Mauritius 2 Air Mauritius (5), BA (3)
Miami (#18) 7 American (8), BA (14)
Mumbai (#13) 7 Air India (10), BA (14), Jet Airways (14)
Nairobi 7 BA (7), Kenya Airlines (10)
New York JFK (#1) 28 Air India (7), American (34), BA (55), Delta (14), Kuwait Airways (3)
Newark (#3) 14 BA (20), Continental (14)
San Francisco (#12) 7 BA (14), United (14)
Shanghai 7 BA (5), China Eastern (2)
Tokyo Narita (#15) 7 ANA (7), BA (14), JAL (7)
Washington (#10) 14 BA (24), United (28)
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 23 June 2008
Bold: New services started this summer after changes to UK-US bilateral.
Image: Virgin Atlantic
Virgin has ordered 15 787-9 Dreamliners (plus 28 options) as well as six A380s but the first of these is not due for delivery until 2013.

Of the 18 routes served at Heathrow the airline faces competition from British Airways on all of them. Furthermore Virgin faces competition from at least one additional airline on every Heathrow route. On New York JFK and Los Angeles Virgin is just one of six carriers passengers can choose from. With no feed of its own either in the UK or the US the airline relies heavily on point-to-point traffic and a handful of codeshare partners including Continental and US Airways in North America and bmi British Midland in the UK.

From the start of the winter season the Hong Kong service will be increased to 10 weekly flights before going double-daily in early December.
On three of its top four frequency routes from Heathrow VS has recently had to cope with a new competitor following the changes in the UK-US bilateral. Delta has started flying from New York JFK, Continental from Newark and Air France has boldly started Heathrow to Los Angeles services.

Top UK long-haul routes not served by Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow are Toronto (ranked #6 long-haul destination in passenger numbers from all UK airports in 2007), Singapore (#8), Orlando (#11), Doha (#16), Sanford Orlando (#17) and Vancouver (#19). Singapore would not make sense since the airline already codeshares with part-owner Singapore Airlines while Orlando (primarily a leisure market) is served from both Gatwick and Manchester. This raises the question as to why the airline does not serve any Canadian destinations.


  1. Mike Dean says:

    VS used to serve Toronto but dropped it following 9/11 (it was a short-lived service). It also serves GND from LGW (missing from the list above). replies: Grenada (GND) is indeed served by VS from Gatwick but via Tobago (TAB). Our list only highlights non-stop services.

  2. Simon WP Morgan says:

    Virgin also has a seasonal Glasgow-Orlando service. It operates weekly in peak summer weeks, mainly around the Scottish School Holidays. While mainly operated for Virgin Holidays, it is a scheduled flight.

  3. Simon says:

    Just for the record BA will start a LGW-LAS service very soon……. This is supposed to be a secret though

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