London – New York market still evolving as Virgin Atlantic celebrates 25th anniversary on the route

The 80s-themed anniversary flight to New York remains a vital market for Virgin. Sir Richard also announced an order of 10 A330-300s for delivery from 2011.

Virgin Atlantic recently celebrated its 25th anniversary in customary style, with the boss stepping out onto the wing of one of his aircraft with supermodel Kate Moss kitted out in a Virgin red dress and high heels, as the airline re-created its launch flight. It was on 22 June 1984 that Richard Branson’s fledgling airline began scheduled flights from London Gatwick to New York Newark. Frankie Goes To Hollywood were #1 on the UK pop charts with “Two tribes” (though the recent Virgin 25th anniversary TV ad uses the band’s other big hit “Relax” as its backing music). Since then the airline’s route network and fleet have expanded but the London – New York route still holds pride of place for the airline. Passenger demand between these two great global cities has had its share of ups and downs over the last 20 years, reflecting economic woes and responses to global events.

Image: Celebrating 25 years
In London: A quarter-century on, the glitz and glamour of the Virgin brand is still very much alive…..
Image: Richard Branson speaking
And in Manhattan… an exclusive “red hot” themed party….
Chart: NY-LON
Source: UK CAA

In New York two airports have been served, JFK and Newark, while in the UK Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and Luton have all served as departure points for flights to the big apple. From the end of September London City can be added to this list as British Airways recently confirmed a start date for its double-daily all-business class A318 services.

Passenger numbers in 2008 dipped as a result of the global financial crisis though in 2007 traffic had only just returned to pre ‘9/11′ levels. Comparing the latest May 2009 figures with May 2008 shows that traffic has declined by a further 11.5% and the number of route combinations has fallen from six to three.

Route May 2008 May 2009 Change
Heathrow – JFK 234,754 210,592 -10.3%
Heathrow – Newark 72,259 84,473 +16.9%
Gatwick – JFK 10,329 12,073 +16.9%
Gatwick – Newark 15,034 0 -100%
Stansted – JFK 8,001 0 -100%
Luton – Newark 6,637 0 -100%
Total 347,014 307,138 -11.5%
Source: UK CAA

Heathrow – JFK the leading combination

Throughout the last 20 years the London Heathrow – New York JFK combination has consistently accounted for between 65% and 75% of all ‘NYLON’ traffic. The current providers of capacity are summarised below.

Route Airline (weekly frequency)
Heathrow – Newark British Airways (20), Continental (21), Virgin Atlantic (10)
Heathrow – JFK American (34), British Airways (48), Delta (14), Virgin Atlantic (18)
Gatwick – JFK British Airways (7)
Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 1 June 2009

Continental, having finally got access to Heathrow in 2008 as part of the updated bilateral agreement between the UK and US, terminated its Gatwick-Newark service at the end of last summer. In total this summer British Airways has 75 weekly departures, American 34, Virgin Atlantic 28, Continental 21 and Delta 14. UK carriers have 103 weekly departures compared with 69 for US carriers.

In recent years there have been other carriers such as Eos (Stansted-JFK until end of April 2008), Maxjet (Stansted-JFK until December 2007) and Silverjet (Luton-Newark until May 2008) who all tried variations of an all-business class product from secondary London airports. Sadly all failed. Even American, sensing the possible threat from these airlines, operated daily flights to London Stansted from JFK from 29 October 2007 until 2 July 2008.


  1. Arthur Dent says:

    I understand that BA will be ending their Gatwick – JFK services at the end of the summer season. This would mean that in 2010 for the first time in many years there would no longer be any flights from Gatwick to any New York airport.

Comments are closed